Power, Politics & Resources: A case study of the Marae Moana, Cook Islands
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Small pacific islands are dependent on the ocean as a means of sustenance and livelihood, yet they are also at the vanguard of climate change. Growing anthropogenic pressures on the marine environment are causing environmental decay calling for new and more drastic means of environmental management and conservation. Conservation is both an ecological as well as a social process, through MPAs certain actors may face exclusion from resources while others may not, this may also result in changes of power positions amongst different members in communities. This research explores the social dynamics of the Marae Moana, the world's largest multi-purpose marine park and how access to resources and power positions have changed since the implementation of the park. Through analysing policy, news articles and stakeholder interviews the research explores the complex landscape of stakeholders partaking in maritime conservation in the Cook Islands. Before delving into the stakeholder concerns and inter stakeholder dynamics, the research provides an overview of what activities take place within the Cook Island exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and actors are involved in the different processes of management. The research finds that small scale operators benefit from the legislation while commercial operators face restrictions through having to operate outside prescribed exclusion zones. The research also finds that the government is trying to control the narrative on seabed mining through isolating critics like the environmental NGO Te Ipukarea Society (TIS). The Marae Moana Act does however provide TIS a tool in which it can hold the government accountable. The majority of community actors are in favor of the Marae Moana act, however there are various concerns regarding the practical aspects of the legislation. These concerns stretch from lack of compliance by foreign licensed fishing vessels, illegal fishing by unlicensed foreign vessels and lack of transparency by the government. Overall, the study concludes by arguing the Marae Moana is positive legislation for maritime conservation in a complex landscape of domestic and international actors working towards conservation in the Cook Islands, however there remains room for improvement regarding transparency and law enforcement.