League's Kevin Iro behind world's largest marine park in Cook Islands' exclusive zone

By Kelvin McDonald
Source / Conservation International

Former Kiwis league star Kevin Iro has won a prestigious Seacology prize which honours exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.

Iro, who has Cook Islands whakapapa and now lives there with his whānau, has been recognised for creating the largest multi-use marine park in the world, Marae Moana. It extends over the entire exclusive economic zone of the Cook Islands, an area of 1.9 million square kilometres, the Marae Moana website says.

Iro grew up in Auckland and says from the age of seven or eight his whānau started going to the Cook Islands for the school holidays and he "fell in love with the place".

"I moved back with my family, I noticed the change," Iro told non-profit environmental organisation, Conservation International.

"When I was young the lagoon was just vibrant. There were so many colours, all the coral was alive.

"As the years went by, I'd say to my family 'there's something wrong out there'."  

Iro came up with the marine park concept about two or three years ago. He says the Pacific accounts for 60 per cent of the world's tuna catch and this is having a major impact.

"Our small fishermen, their catches over the last 20 years have gone from quite substantial catches to virtually none. The Cook Islands marine park can make those stocks grow." 

With Marae Moana, the aim is to be inclusive and "bring in every person that has anything to do with the ocean," he says.

Conservation International has come onboard as a key partner and scientists, local leaders and the community are all involved.

'We're looking at a zone approach, whether they be no fishing zones, commercial fishing zones, zones for tourism activity."

Iro says they want to use the internet and social media in "a big way" and make it an "open source" marine park.  

"People from around the world can play an interactive part in seeing where fishing vessels are fishing."

Iro has every belief Moana Marae will succeed.

"I'm an optimist, I'm positive it's going to work. I think the idea is going to spread through the Pacific," he says.

The Seacology prize ceremony honouring Iro will be held online in October.