The Shark Sanctuary Campaign
This page is to give those interested the background
of our campaign and access to some of the collateral we produced.
I had the idea of protecting sharks in the Cook
Islands about 6 years ago, inspired by the whale sanctuary
in our waters. However I am a bit of an ideas man and didn't
have the time to see this through immediately. In May 2011,
Jess Cramp joined PICI as our first programme
manager with an immediate affect on the organisation.
Jess crystalized my visions and part of that was driving the
Cook Islands Shark Sancutary Project forward. - Stephen
Lyon, Founder PICI
From the outset we reached out to the international
community for support, but found it very hard to obtain. Wanting
to get the project moving, we decided to develop a campaign
that used local resources and reached out to the community.
With the help from local business sponsors, we produced our
first set of media, like these posters, to raise awareness
of the issue.
We did our own analysis of the current National
Plan Of Action (NPOA) for sharks as well as the Marine Resources
Act (2005) (MRA), [LONGLINE ORDER] the governing legislation
for fishing. We found that while the act promoted the sustainable
management of resources, sharks didn't have any regulations
to stop commercial exploitation. The NPOA highlighted the
issue, but was powerless to affect management through a lack
of enforcement capability.
It was our initial intention to protect sharks
through an independent Act, however regulations under the
MRA would be more in-line with current fisheries management
and enforcement, which was the preferred approach by those
within the Marine Resources Ministry. The Act allows for Regulations
to be established with regards to any fishery, so this is
the pathway we chose to establish the shark sanctuary.
In late 2011, Jess did some amazing media outreach,
using images and support we had already established to publicize
our campaign internationally. This received coverage in serveral
large newspapers including the New Zealand Herald and LA Times.
From those articles came offers of support, and this was a
turning point in the campaign. One of the best finds was Michael
Balster, an Environmental Attorney with Paul Hastings LLP.
View the New Zealand Herald article
View the LA Times article here.
Michael has been instrumental in the drafting
of the regulations, taking our intent and producing regulations
in the format required by Cook Islands law. Michael was required
to redraft these regulations countless times, including a
complete format change that came into effect for all regulations
midway through the campaign. Michael, through the generosity
Hastings LLP, did this work pro bono, and with the greatest
efficiency. He far exceeded our expecations in both professionalism
Another great outcome was the interest of the
PEW Global Shark Campaign.We had been in contact with PEW
earlier in the campaign, but the international exposure helped
then Director Matt Rand to send someone out to see if we were
worth working with. Stefanie Bredl spent 2 weeks in Rarotonga,
and the result was a relationship with PEW that would see
PEW partially support the campaign, giving us the ability
to produce more collateral and visit the remote outer islands
communities. Their support also enabled Jess to remain with
the campaign for longer than initially anticipated.
The initial assessment of the pathway to establishing
a shark sanctuary seemed much simpler than it turned out to
be. Our naivity in fisheries management showed through. There
were several times we thought we were close only to feel an
invisible wall press back against us. In April, Jess went
on a month long turtle expedition and was nervous the declaration
might be made in her absence. It took 7 more months.
We decided we needed an icon to help give recognition
to the campaign, so we had local tattoo artist Tama Garnier
design a symbol. If you look carefully at the symbol it includes
a hidden Manta Ray, with the dorsal and outer pectoral fin
making up it's wings. As Tama is of Cook Islands and Tahitian
descent, the iconography inlcudes styles of both the Cook
Islands and French Polynesia. Click for a larger image. Note
the icon was flipped and rotated for our eventual design.
Our initial optimism came from the Prime Minister's
statement of creating what at the time was the world's largest
marine park. We thought this kind of political will would
surely support shark protection, given there is no benefit
in the Cook Islands from shark fishing and several communities
and organisations were supporting us. However, while the Prime
Minister's intentions were good, the shark issue sat squarely
with the Ministry of Marine Resources, the Secretary of which,
has been our biggest opposition.
Some of the print collateral produced included
flyers in English and Cook Islands Maori, and stickers. They
were widely dispersed to help educate the public on what the
protection of sharks means for the Cook Islands.
You can see one of the PSAs produced using local
This video really worked well to introduce the topic and get
people thinking openly about the issue.
And here's another of Matiu John talking
about sharks! Matiu
In order to gain the political will, we needed
to get the voice of the people heard. We continued on a well
publicized campaign, visiting as many islands and communities
as possible, and writing to those we could not physically
get to. We also engaged all the community organisations that
have an interest, including other environmental NGOs, fishing
associations and so on. We gained the support of Cook Islands-owned
fishing companies, who do not have an interest in shark fishing
or finning, and interviewed the Captain of one vessel, who
gave us great insight into the world of the illicit shark
fin trade and how it operated.
We also engaged with as many schools as possible.
The voice of the child is very powerful when it falls on the
ears of parents. School kids drew posters, wrote letters and
showed their support in joyous and colourful fashion.
Many prominent Cook Islanders came on-board
in support of shark protection. These include local legends,
Pa Teuruaa, Danny Mataroa and Tua Pittman, Miss Cook Islands
Teuira Napa, Kate Ngatokorua (2nd in Miss South Pacific 2012)
, traditional voyager Alex Olah and others from the Marumaru
Atua Cook Islands Vaka. These people circulated a petition,
spoke at public events, featured in our public service announcements,
and engaged many individuals and the local schools.
Throughout the public campaign, we continued
to work with staff of the Minstry of Marine Resources to ensure
the regulations were in-line with what the Ministry would
establish if it were to protect sharks. We also engaged with
each Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, to keep them
informed of our intent and progress of the campaign. Every
person and organisation we met with in the community were
Good fortune allowed the Cook Islands host the
Pacifc Islands Forum in 2012, a meeting of all regional leaders,
at which we had a booth for our organisation. Madame Secretary
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State was in attendance,
the most important person to visit the Cook Islands in many
years. During the forum we met with many people from nations
that had already protected sharks, and were overwhelmed with
their support. We heard no negative outcomes. These people
reached out to our own politicians, and brought a different
perspective to the argument. At this stage we were getting
the feeling the political will was there to protect sharks,
the Prime Minister had said enough times that he didn't see
a problem with it. However, we still struggled to get any
real traction where it mattered.
We produced a wrap with the assistance of PEW
during the Forum. This was published on a key day of the forum
and generated a huge amount of regional support. Click the
images for readable versions.
In a bid to control the issue, the Secretary
of Marine Resources brought in a very respected fisheries
scientist, Dr.Shelly Clarke, to assist in redrafting the NPOA
- Sharks. Consultations were held, and while the vast majority
agreed that no shark fishing was the simpilest way to manage
sharks, the Ministry pressed on and produced a revised draft
NPOA that still allowed for most species to be retained, and
equipment used to target sharks allowed. However the clearest
failure of the NPOA was the still missing ability to properly
punish those in breach of it. Rather than having clear enforcement
guidelines, infringements against the NPOA were to be referred
to the Secretary. This NPOA actually moved to establish a
quasi shark fishery in the Cook Islands. We submitted a detailed
proposal for highlighting what we felt was missing from this
new draft NPOA.
During the following months we kept up with
the public campaign, visiting communities and schools, and
informing decision makers about our progress. Trips to the
outer islands of the Cook Islands were extremely welcomed
by the communities, and we found these consultations particularly
interesting as these people fish on the sea for their food
every day. We also had to opportunity to experience some of
the more remote places in the Pacific, swim in limestone caves,
explore seldom visited places and meet the most generous and
The petitions continued to gain numbers and
more people started to ask why the sanctuary had not been
Continued campaigning and some clear arguments
put forward to the Minister of Marine Resources saw a turning
point late in Octoboer, when the Minister saw the benefit
of protection of sharks over any by-catch related fishery.
In his wisdom he saw the benefit not only to sharks, but also
to the Cook Islands, through the leverage and interest generated
in the destination. He also saw the potential for locally
caught and produced Cook Islands Golden Tuna to become the
worlds first Tuna brand to be labelled 'Shark friendly'.
With the support of the Minister of Marine Resources,
Hon Teina Bishop, the campaign has concluded on a very positive
note, with the whole nation supporting the protection of sharks.
Open the photo gallery for the campaign. This
will be updated as we sort through images. Photo
See a collection
of local articles published in Cook Islands News relevant
to the campaign.
If you have any questions you can email either
Page written and updated by Stephen Lyon,
14 December 2012