IMAGE: OCEANS INC
On 19 December 2012 the Cook Islands designated 1.2 million km2 of its waters as a sanctuary for sharks, becoming the world's largest continuous shark sanctuary.
The Marine Resources Shark Conservation Regulations were established under the Marine Resources Act 2005.
The sanctuary protects sharks from targeted fishing and aims to prevent the possession, sale, and trade of shark parts and products. Heavy fines can be imposed on violators found with any part of a shark onboard their
vessel. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to the health of shark and ray populations and other ocean life around the world. More than 20 shark species inhabiting these waters are now
protected from overexploitation.
A National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks in the Cook Islands was established in 2012 to seek and promote a rational approach, based on scientific evidence and application of the
precautionary principle, to the conservation and management of shark resources in order to maintain stocks at sustainable levels and protect the biological diversity of the marine environment.
The Cook Islands was declared a whale sanctuary in September 2001. The declaration followed the 32nd Pacific Islands Forum Meeting held in August 2001 where Forum Leaders recalled their decision at their 2000 meeting
calling for the progressing of a proposal on a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary and noted the outcome of the meeting convened by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme in April 2001 in Apia, Samoa to advance
The Government declared:
1. The exclusive economic zone of the Cook Islands a Sanctuary for all whales.
2. The purpose of the Sanctuary is to contribute towards the protection of whales by prohibiting the deliberate take of whales.
3. Any accidental capture of or injury to a whale during fishing operations and the utilization of stranded whale carcasses in the exclusive economic zone will require to be reported to the Ministry of Marine Resources.
4. The creation of a whale sanctuary in the Cook Islands is a proactive management measure that will support the following activities: i. Non-lethal scientific research; ii. Collaboration for information exchange, education and
awareness initiatives; iii. Monitoring of whales; iv. Identification of future threats to whales and appropriate action to counter those threats; and v. Development of mechanisms for the regular evaluation of management
programmes in terms of appropriate objectives.
In 2015 the Ministry of Marine Resources drafted a policy paper and proposed guidelines with the intent of introducing real protection for whales through a set of regulations for the sanctuary. The documents can be