Although large marine protected areas have become a dominant strategy for marine biodiversity conservation, especially in Oceania, scholars have mostly ignored the historical, social, cultural, and political contexts that have contributed to the emergence and development of these institutions. In this ethnographic essay, I discuss the inception of the Cook Islands Marine Park (Marae Moana), an approximately one-million-square-kilometer mixed-use marine protected area in the southern half of the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone. I show that although many stakeholders in the Cook Islands did not initially support the marine park concept, the process of making Marae Moana eventually became a medium for rearticulating social values and aspirations in the face of serious challenges to the nation, state, economy, and environment. This transformation, from public criticism to broad stakeholder support, was conditioned by public perceptions of previous and emerging national scandals that tended to intensify support for the marine park because it was seen, by many, as a project that would increase government transparency. In particular, concerns over scandals related to fisheries and other environmental issues foregrounded the ocean as an ethical and political object for all Cook Islanders and recast large-scale marine protection as a national virtue. Marae Moana became a nation-making project that was intended to foster a sense of pride among Cook Islanders while also integrating previous state priorities such as economic development, modernization, traditional culture, and tourism.