The Cook Islands have unveiled the world’s largest marine park that is a almost twice the size of France at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Prime Minister of the Cook Islands- Henry Puna- said the 1.065 million square kilometre (411,000 square mile) reserve is "the largest area in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management" in an interview with AFP.
He said protecting the Pacific, one of the last pristine marine eco-systems, was the Cooks' major contribution "to the well-being of not only our peoples, but also of humanity".
The park was unveiled as the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) opened with a spectacular Polynesian welcoming ceremony.
Heralded by traditional drummers and blaring conch shells, leaders of the 15-nation grouping were carried to the summit venue in the Cooks Islands' capital Avarua on litters, while flag-waving locals cheered enthusiastically.
Dancers in grass skirts added to the Polynesian pomp for an event organisers said was one of the largest in the nation's history, rivalled only by a visit from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974.
The Cook Islands protected zone will be the largest single marine park in the world, taking in the entire southern half of the nation's waters.
The 15 islands have a combined landmass of 240 square kilometres (93 square miles) -- barely larger than that of Washington DC -- but its waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.
From Spasifik mag.com and additional photo from Conservation International