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TIS Cook Islands
Kelvin and Alanna representing BirdLife at the WCPFC-SC, alongside Karen Baird (left) from Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand)

Te Ipukarea Society staff attended the West and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) Scientific Committee meeting which was hosted here in Rarotonga in August by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR). As members of Birdlife, which has observer status at the WCPFC, we were fortunate to be able to participate in this scientific forum.

This meeting is where the fishery scientists representing the various members of the WCPFC get together to agree on what scientific advice they should give to the WCPFC managers of the fisheries. The group of fishery managers meet every year in December to agree on how best to manage the various tuna fisheries in the West and Central Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, there is not always a consensus on what advice is put forward by the Scientific Committee, as the scientists representing the various fishing nations often have the interests of their fishing fleets influencing their input. For example, this year there was an effort to get agreement on a target exploitation level for South Pacific Albacore, but this has been deferred for another year due to no consensus being reached.

It was quite an environmentally friendly meeting, with large water bottles being used for people to refill their cups or reusable bottles, so there were no piles of empty plastic bottles for the land fill. Also there was very good use of biodegradable coffee cups and plates for the morning and afternoon teas.

Te Ipukarea Society would like to congratulate the team from MMR who have done an excellent job in organising this large meeting of scientists in the Cook Islands.

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Liam with some of the other Kuki's on a Tongan reef flat An example of poorly planned development - this mangrove system was killed by placing a road through it

Liam recently commenced a postgraduate certificate in Ridge to Reef Sustainability through Queensland’s James Cook University (JCU), alongside fellow Kuki’s from the Cook Islands National Environment Service and Infrastructure Department. The group travelled to Tonga last week for a postgraduate induction training week, hosted by Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) and run by lecturers from JCU. The postgraduate certificate is a part time course, and students will complete one paper per semester with the aim to complete all four papers by the end of Semester 1, 2019. The study programme was created in order to build the capacity of Pacific Island people from the 14 Pacific Island Countries who are a part of the GEF Pacific Ridge to Reef (R2R) programme. The group of student’s first paper is titled ‘Ridge to Reef Ecosystem Dynamics’.

Some of the Cook Islands contingent who are taking part in the Postgrad Certificate in Ridge to Reef Sustainability.
In Tonga, days usually consisted of morning and afternoon classes, with a field trip around midday. During the class sessions the new students covered the requirements of the assignments they will be working on this semester. Each of the four field trips took the group to a different type of ecosystem, as what better to explain ecosystem dynamics than to visit the sites themselves? Below is a brief summary of the different ecosystems which the group visited.

Day One: Reef Flat Habitat
The team visited this site at low tide to better observe the different biodiversity present. Interesting to note than the animal species and abundance changed as they travelled further from the beach towards the reef. This site predominantly consisted of silty-sandy flats, patches of seagrass, and dense coral groves.

Day Two: Rocky Shore
This site was also protected by a reef and quite calm near the shore. Within the back-reef area, holes in the coral rock (rockpools) turned out to be hotspots for marine biodiversity. There was high wave energy action around the channels and where the reef meets the ocean, which has led to formation of blowholes and other rock sculptures. Biodiversity (particularly coral and seaweed species) was also different in these high energy areas.

Day Three: Mangrove system
Consisted of two sites, one relatively pristine mangrove site at Captain Cook’s landing and another mangrove site which has been partially cleared and replaced by groins in an attempt to create sandy beaches along a coastal road. The important role of mangrove systems as a coastal protection, sediment filter, and animal habitat was also discussed.

Day Four: Port and Urban Development
The team visited the national port and a former mangrove tidal flat which has been cleared and/or cut off from its connection to the sea. Large areas of this coastal area have been filled in with rocks in order to provide solid ground for housing development. A large man-made river has been created to allow water to drain out to sea, while there are also plans to turn the area into a tourist hub including a gold course. The environmental impacts of this infilling and the associated development are uncertain.

Day Five: A special case study
The group visited a large mangrove area which lay in between a village and an area which had agricultural potential. A road was built across the mangrove area to connect the village to the land and provide access to the planting lands. However due to poor design and a lack of understanding of the ecosystem, the road blocked off the flow of salt water to the other side. As a result the mangroves in this area were experiencing severe dieback, particularly one species of mangrove (there were three species in the area, inhabiting different tidal zones). The group learnt that different species of mangroves can tolerate different levels of salinity, which is the reason that one mangrove species died off completely due to the road being built while others did not. The whole habitat could have been protected with a better study of natural processes occurring in the area and engineering to allow water to flow underneath the road.

Meitaki ma’ata to Global Environment Facility (GEF) for funding the Pacific Ridge to Reef Programme, SPC for hosting the event, and NES for the support.

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