The Cook Islands—a nation with less than 100 square miles of land—has created one of the world's largest marine preserves. Parliament passed legislation late Thursday to set up the park, AFP reports. The sanctuary, called Marae Moana, comprises about 700,000 square miles of sea and covers the entirety of the Cook Islands' Exclusive Economic Zone.
Marae Moana is the result of years of work by local environmentalists and is part of a larger trend among Pacific island nations to create large marine sanctuaries as a way of buffering their natural resources against climate change, as Pacific Standard reported last year. "For nations today, what can they do? They can create these things," Sue Taei, a project manager with Conservation International, told Pacific Standard at the time. "They're not waiting around for the world to reduce their use of fossil fuels."
Pacific Standard also talked with Kevin Iro, a former rugby player and the driving force behind Marae Moana, about why the park was important to many Cook Islanders. In a part of our interview we didn't publish at the time, he said:
Our ocean is our main resource. We want to protect that and we want future generations to benefit from it and have sustainable resources. It's absolutely key to our economy, to our culture, to our lifestyle.
Historically, you know, the ocean brought us here. There are the whole cultural links to the ocean and our forefathers, how they traveled the ocean. So it's spiritual, to some people. Hopefully, we can pass that on to our younger generation, who obviously have been very Westernized. We're trying to pass on the need to protect our oceans, our reefs, our ecosystem.
Also, when you live on small islands, you see just how fragile they are. In a decade, two decades, you can really see huge impacts in the environment. I suppose in bigger countries, you don't really notice it as much.