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The Cook Islands, proactively conserving biodiversity

24 January 2023, Rarotonga, Cook Islands - Committed to achieving 25 per cent of land as a Protected Area in the Cook Islands under the Cook Islands NSDA2020+, the island nation is exploring new ways to do this.  This further helps the Cook Islands meet global obligations as agreed in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) to both halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

Human activity has resulted in the extinction of one million plant and animal species, but despite that over half of the worlds GDP is reliant on our environment. 

Endorsed in December 2022, the GBF has 23 targets under four overarching goals to be met by over 195 countries including the Cook Islands. Target three is in line with our goals under the Cook Islands National Sustainable Develop Plan 2020-Plus. This focusses on ensuring that 30 per cent of areas of particular importance are protected and effectively conserved and managed by 2030. The Cook Islands also supported the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People which called for 30 per cent of protected areas on land and sea to conserve nature.

The Cook Islands is exploring Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) through a two-day workshop that brings together a wide range of stakeholders to learn more about this concept. OECMs are not Protected Areas but are geographically defined areas that are governed and managed in ways that sustain positive and sustained long-term conservation.

“We are excited by the opportunities that OECMs will bring, we look forward to reviewing the value of these in the Cook Islands.  They will enable and empower our local communities that are currently conserving areas either on land or in our waters, to be acknowledged for their work and environment achievements hopefully leading to further support,” said Mr Halatoa Fua, Director of the Cook Islands National Environment Service.

“We all know the value of our Protected Areas, this goes beyond a financial cost to that which helps sustain our well-being be it sustainable water resourcing, food security, supporting our Cook Islands economies and uplifting our Cook Islands culture. OECMs are one way that we can all work together at all levels to invest and increase this value in our island nation.”

The primary difference between OECMs and Protected Areas is that for OECMs, biodiversity conservation and protection may not always be their primary objective, however, they deliver benefits for biodiversity conservation regardless. 

Although it is anticipated that many areas within the Pacific could be designated as an OECM, there are currently none reported in the region. The two days ahead will bring Cook Islands stakeholders together to discuss the possible benefits and drawbacks of recognising and reporting these areas and learn about the tools and assistance available. In addition to supporting the Cook Islands, it is anticipated that this could provide valuable lessons for other countries in the region interested in OECM identification, recognition, and support.

OECM Cook Islands

The workshop held on 24 and 25 January will result in an improved understanding of OECMs among conservation practitioners and policymakers, gain an insight into potential OECMs and concerns specific to the Cook Islands and the Pacific region. It will also help plan a way forward to recognise and report OECMs in the Cook Islands.

“When it comes to biodiversity, as a global community we are failing.  Our marine species are impacted by marine plastic pollution which has increased tenfold since 1980, in the last 20 years our planet has lost approximately 420 million hectares of forest, and invasive species have been the cause of close to 40 per cent of all animal extinctions,” said Mr Fua.

“What is happening across our planet is happening here to us also, and we’re pleased to be playing a proactive role to protect and conserve.  The Cook Islands are taking the right, positive steps, doing what we can to provide solutions for this global crisis.”

Established Protected Areas in the Cook Islands include the Suwarrow National Park and 50 nautical miles around each island of the Cook Islands under the Marae Moana Act 2017 Section 24.

The Cook Islands Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECM) Workshop is held

at the Edgewater Resort. The workshop is supported by the EU-OACPS BIOPAMA programme and its partners – IUCN Oceania, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the UN Environment Programme -World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).in partnership with the Cook Islands National Environment Service.

BIOPAMA, an initiative of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific (OACPS) Group of States financed by the European Union 11th European Development Fund. In the Pacific, the project is implemented by IUCN Oceania in partnership with SPREP and the European Commission Joint Research Centre. This partnership has assisted the SPREP Regional Programme of Support for Protected Areas to become a decision-making support hub, including delivering capacity-building activities and training in the use of BIOPAMA support tools and services. It has also seen significant enhancements of the Pacific Islands Protected Area Portal, the region’s one-stop resource for protected area information.

Additional assistance for the workshop is provided by the ACPMEAs 3 project, The ACP MEAs programme is a joint partnership between the European Union, the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The programme aims to build capacity in 79 countries in Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) to support them in fulfilling their obligations as parties to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), to address the environmental challenges they face and to reap the benefits of improved environmental governance at national and regional levels.

For further information about the:

  • OECM workshop, please contact Ms. Hayley Weeks, Manager of Environmental Partnerships, National Environment Service on email: [email protected]
  • BIOPAMA regional resource and data hub, please contact Mr. Vainuupo Jungblut, Protected Areas Officer on email: [email protected]  
  • BIOPAMA Programme, please contact Mr. Rahul Chand, Protected and Conserved Areas Programme Coordinator / BIOPAMA Regional Coordinator, IUCN ORO on email: [email protected]
  • WD-OECM, you can visit the website by clicking here, or by emailing [email protected]
  • ACPMEAs 3 project, please contact Ms. Anastacia Amoa-Stowers, Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) Coordinator on email: [email protected]