In summer 2011 I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Cook Islands to carry out research on the endemic Rarotonga Starling for six weeks. I visited the most populated island and was still greeted with crystal clear waters and beautiful sand. The islands are a key spot for tourism, yet most tourists spend their time on the beach or in fancy hotels rather than journeying to the upland native forest where my research was focused.
I was pleased to hear this week that the Cook Islands Government were in talks with the IUCN in regards to legally designating the world’s largest marine park. Furthermore the Marine Park Steering Committee includes the Te Ipukarea Society who kindly provided volunteers to assist with my bird surveys.
Three years on it is nice to look back on those sunny days in Raro from my chilly office, and to see these conservation projects being achieved, particularly with a focus on managing tourism sustainably.
The Cook Islands Marine Park covers 1.065 million square kilometres (411,000 square miles) - an area more than twice the size of Papua New Guinea. It is the largest marine park ever declared by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management. The area includes remote atolls, high volcanic islands surrounded by fringing reefs and unspoilt fauna associated with underwater mountains. It also hosts rich Pacific marine biodiversity, including rare seabirds, blue whales, manta rays and several shark species, a number of which are listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species