MPAs more than 1 million km2 each; could allow fishing and seabed mining

Two South Pacific jurisdictions have indicated their intent to plan and eventually designate MPAs that will be among the largest in the world. In September at the Pacific Islands Forum, the nation of the Cook Islands announced it would create a 1-million km2 marine park encompassing roughly half of the country’s EEZ. The French territory of New Caledonia followed with its own pledge to create a 1.4-million km2 MPA.

To put these MPAs in context: the Cook Islands MPA will be roughly the size of Finland, Norway, and Sweden together. Add Poland to that and you’ll have the New Caledonia MPA. The announced MPAs represent a rise to the challenge set by Kiribati, which designated the 408,000-km2 Phoenix Island Protected Area in 2008 and called on other South Pacific nations to follow its lead.

Officials in the Cook Islands and New Caledonia expect the planning process for each MPA will take 2-3 years, during which time planners will decide which activities to allow inside the MPAs. Officials are leaving the option open for various extractive uses, including fishing and even seabed mining – provided such uses can be justified as sustainable.

Below, officials with the Cook Islands and New Caledonia describe the planning processes ahead for their sites:

1. Cook Islands Marine Park (CIMP)

By Elizabeth Koteka, Director of Policy and Planning, Office of the Prime Minister, Cook Islands. Email:

On the timeframe:

There are a lot of activities following on from the announcement by the Prime Minister to establish the CIMP. One of these activities involves conducting a legal analysis on the best legislative fit for it. There are existing laws under which the CIMP could be legally designated, such as the Ministry of Marine Resources Act. However, following consultations, the general feeling is we should examine if that is indeed the best option or if it is better to create entirely new legislation. This legal analysis is scheduled to be undertaken within the next few months.

It is anticipated that the legal designation of the CIMP, including regulations, will be completed within two years, given the need to consult, etc. Drawing from the experiences of the establishment of other marine parks, one can appreciate that CIMP is a massive undertaking that will require a lot of consultation with impacted communities and stakeholders.

On what activities will be allowed in the CIMP:

The process to determine the areas and types of uses within the CIMP is currently underway. It will include consultation, marine spatial planning, biodiversity surveys, etc. These processes are also likely to inform the development of the management plan.

It is important to note that the CIMP covers not only marine waters but also islands and the near shore. While this adds to the complexity of the whole initiative, we see CIMP as a wonderful opportunity to address the management of the entirety of our environment in a holistic manner. There are already conservation measures in place that include no-take areas (called raui) in coastal waters, based on traditional methods of conservation. There is also currently a ban on commercial fishing within 12 nautical miles of the islands. Marine conservation is nothing new to Cook Islanders. The CIMP will seek to enhance existing practices.

Drawing from the experience of others – and in particular that of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with its rezoning process a decade ago – working out these details takes time. We have given ourselves three years to have a robust management plan in place and one that has the buy-in of communities and key stakeholders.

On enforcement of such a large area:

Like any other marine park, monitoring is going to be a challenge. There are current monitoring measures in place through traditional methods, marine surveillance cooperation with other jurisdictions, observer coverage, Cook Islands Police patrol boats, etc. However, these efforts are not enough as it is and will obviously need to be enhanced.

We do not have all the answers at the moment. Rather than do nothing and wait until we have all answers (which will be too late), we are taking a leap of faith, and hope that as this journey progresses we will learn from it and constantly improve.

2. New Caledonian Coral Sea MPA

By Anne-Claire Goarant, Office of Regional Cooperation and External Relations, Government of New Caledonia. Email:

On the timeframe:

The 1.4-million km2 marine protected area in New Caledonia will be officially designated after a thorough, participative marine spatial planning analysis. Bearing in mind the research carried out since 1993 within the framework of the multidisciplinary ZoNéCo programme (aimed at assessing both living and non-living resources of New Caledonia’s EEZ and lagoons; ) and the amount of scientific data that has been acquired, this work should take two to three years. We expect the New Caledonian Coral Sea MPA to be designated by 2015.

The marine protected area will include zones with different management objectives and adapted legal frameworks. The purpose is to have a multiple-use MPA where each zone is managed in a sustainable way through a management plan. This MPA will be a tool for the New Caledonian government to ensure the long-term conservation and development of its EEZ over the next 15 years and beyond.

On what activities will be allowed:

New Caledonia aims to sustainably manage its marine natural resources. This means that the future MPA will apply protection status based on several factors, including:

  • Conservation targets (such as for species, habitats, and oceanographic processes) and examples of ecologically and biologically significant areas;
  • Existing and potential human activities that promote best practices, including recreational and commercial fishing as well as mining and exploration; and
  • Connectivity between different zones.

Allowed fishing activity, for example, will need to be able to ensure the sustainability of the targeted fish stock.

Deep sea mining is currently in an exploratory phase in New Caledonia, although no active exploitation is planned in the near future. The marine spatial planning process will detect where the potential areas and stakes are and how to manage these areas, including potentially inside the MPA. This will be a way to strengthen the existing mining code in New Caledonia, which does not currently govern marine mining activities. The existing work by SOPAC (the Secretariat of the Pacific Community), funded by the EU under the European Development Fund, will help address the issues related to deep sea mining in the South Pacific.

On enforcement of such a large area:

The New Caledonian Coral Sea MPA will be monitored and enforced with the strong support of the French Navy, as well as other existing or potential partnerships in the Pacific region.

The establishment of a large MPA in New Caledonia with clear legal rules may be a first step toward building a multilateral commitment and partnership for MPA enforcement across the Coral Sea and South Pacific region.