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TIS Cook Islands

2017-2018 has been a busy and progressive year for the society. There was also a sad time as we mourned the loss of our long serving Patron, Dame Makea Karika Margaret Ariki. Mama Karika had been our Patron since the society’s formation in 1996.
Over the past 13 months we have completed some major projects and commenced other new exciting projects. We have retained our 4 staff members as well as commenced the Dame Margaret Karika Environmental internship with the hiring of an intern in early 2018. We look forward to the coming year with some interesting projects and opportunities in the works. Meitaki ma’ata to our executive committee, staff, volunteers, and supporters for a successful year.
Below are brief summaries of the past year’s work under our five focal areas.
Our staff have worked more closely with local schools this year, after being approached to do presentations to classes as well as help out with school tours to the Takitumu Conservation Area. Liam has begun assisting Ian with cruise ship groups which visit the TCA, which helps bring in money for the Area, as well as a little for TIS. Alanna and Liam joined New Zealand DoC again in August 2017 to conduct kakerori banding and also started learning some of the baiting tracks.
The Suwarrow team recently returned from a rat eradication exercise funded by the GEF SGP on the National Park. The team successfully conducted bird surveys on the island in between rat baiting rounds, and we will await confirmation that Suwarrow is rat-free in one or two years. In the meanwhile we have two small projects (BirdLife-Pacific Island Forum and BirdLife Young Conservation Leaders) which focus on creating strong policy and advocacy work for Suwarrow to ensure it remains protected and biosecurity is strengthened for the future.
The Marae Moana Bill was passed in parliament on 11th July 2017, which is a huge move for conservation of both ocean and land biodiversity in the Cook Islands. Our technical director worked hard to gather support for 50 nautical mile exclusion zones around each island in the Cook Islands, and through doing this helped to convince government to increase the size of the zones from 24nm to 50nm. We have Liam Kokaua on the Marae Moana Technical Advisory Group to contribute to the development of Marae Moana policy and ensure biodiversity conservation remains a significant part of Marae Moana’s activities. We also have Teina Mackenzie on the Marae Moana Council as the NGO representative.
We have been involved in the development of the new NBSAP as contractors for the Ecosystem Services Valuation, as well as stakeholders providing comment during the development of the new document, which will guide biodiversity activities for the next 4 years.
Alanna won the Miss Cook Islands pageant and travelled to China to participate in Miss World. She used these opportunities to showcase the conservation efforts on the Rimatara lorikeet and the work she has done at Te Ipukarea Society with the Tanga’eo. She has continued her research into Petrels and Shearwaters in the Cook Islands, placing acoustic bird recorders on different mountain peaks, and most recently on Mangaia. She also attended a UNESCO Biosphere reserve meeting on behalf of TIS.
Liam was able to spend two weeks conducting whale research in the Great Barrier Reef, increasing his and TIS’ capacity in cetacean research. He also commenced a postgraduate certificate in Ridge to Reef Sustainability, funded through the Ridge to Reef Programme. Also through the R2R programme, Liam participated in two surveys of the endemic Ara Pepe plant, one in Mauke and one in Atiu.
Climate Change
Our first climate change project, Weather Stations in Schools, has kicked off with the majority of outer island schools now recipients of weather stations and having received trainings in how to read these instruments and make climate records for their islands.
Our second climate change project, focussing on building resilient coastlines in the Pacific focusses on providing natural or soft solutions to coastal erosion and other climate related issues in the Northern Cook Islands. We also have other projects in Niue, and Tokelau. This is the society’s first project to span beyond Cook Islands borders, and has brought in valuable income which helps us maintain our work in the Cook Islands.
Eco-Sustainable Development
Alongside the Cook Islands Aronga Mana, we took the Government to court for the signing of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement with the EU.
The initial court case was from 3-6th July 2017 and after a number of months we were informed that we were unfortunately unsuccessful. It was agreed between TIS and the Aronga Mana to go to the Court of Appeal in May 2018, and we are currently waiting on the results. We continue to encourage our people to learn more about the status of our fish stocks and to practice or purchase from sustainable fisheries. Our team attended the WCPFC Scientific Commission meeting held in RArotonga in July 2017. The use of FADs by purse seiners continues to be a major contributor to the decline in fish stocks and other marine life.
Tourism – we continue to advocate for a sustainable tourism industry. We are currently working as the TA for the development of a Tourism Acreditation Scheme for tourist accommodations and businesses, which is funded by the Ridge to Reef Project.
Seabed Mining – we have been involved in interviews and providing comments with a number of researchers and during stakeholder consultations. We continue to educate the public about seabed mining through our information brochures particularly at events such as environment week.
Our team, especially Kelvin has continued the reviewing of EIAs distributed by NES
Our Mana Tiaki programme has grown to include a number of businesses on Rarotonga, and includes the placement of donation boxes at local businesses such as bars, cafes, department stores, and hardware stores. Mana Tiaki income for our projects has increased considerably since 2016.
Liam became a youth ambassador for Sustainable Development on the global stage when he was invited to the UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Conference in Paris. This followed a full day workshop he ran in February 2018 which had 38 high school youth attend to learn more about ESD.
On a very positive note, through publishing an appeal on behalf of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society, one of our BirdLife donor contacts donated 20,000 NZD to CIVS to go towards repairs of their hull which was fire damaged in 2017. We are happy to support CIVS as they are an advocate for both marine conservation and sustainable ocean transport, while maintaining Cook Islands Maori cultural values. The donors also gave 10,000 NZD towards the Dame Margaret Environmental Internship.
Waste Management
Our GEF SGP funded waste management programme has come to an end. In the end all schools except one in the Cook Islands received worm farms and composters. They also received training by competent TIS staff on how to manage these facilities and how they benefit the environment. Through the GEF project we also focussed on awareness raising of waste issues, promoting safe disposal of E-waste, and promoting biodegradable containers and straws which have become vastly more popular over the past 2 years. Our staff will continue doing checks on the worm farms and composters.
Through our Mana Tiaki programme we have also been working with Pacific Resort to help them reduce their environmental impact through presentations and judging their mana tiaki inter-department staff competition.
We organsied a public screening of ‘A Plastic Ocean’ which highlights the dire situation of plastic marine debris currently filling our oceans, which was well attended.
Our Waste Management project won the Energy Globe national award for the Cook Islands for 2017.
We will continue to advocate for better waste management solutions in the future.
As mentioned previously, we have greatly increased our presence at school and in youth engagement in general this year. This includes presentations to classes on topics such as Endangered Species, Waste Management, and Biodiversity Conservation. Our Waste Management and Weather Stations Project specifically focussed on youth in Schools throughout the Cook Islands. We have also been active in public events which target youth such as the annual Environment Week.

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Te Ipukarea Society joined with the expertise of BirdLife international and support of the National Environment Service, have just recently returned back from a rat eradication and bird surveying project on Suwarrow. Suwarrow is the Cook islands first national park and is homed to sharks, turtles, rays and of course thousands of breeding seabirds.

This is the 3rd attempt Te Ipukarea Society have made to remove the invasive rodents (Pacific rat Rattus exults) from the atoll since 2003. The last baiting occurred in 2013, and at that time rats were successfully removed from Anchorage, the main Motu where the National Environment Service (NES) rangers are based, and also where the visiting yachts anchor. Unfortunately a few survived on Motu Tou and Motu Kena.

One of the reasons it was thought that the 2013 operation on Motu Tou had failed was because of the very high numbers of coconut crabs there that love eating the rat bait. So this time, the team planned to apply more than double the amount of rat bait as last time, in the hope that there would be plenty for both the rats and the crabs. Crabs are totally unaffected by the rat bait, though it is recommended that humans do not eat the crabs for at least 6 months after a baiting operating such as this.

The eradication work required a lot of physical strength, with the clearing of bush to create tracks to make an island sized grid. This cleared grid then allowed for the rat baiters to track down each line to manually hand throw rat bait in a circular motion evenly across the island. This whole procedure took about 17 days in total.

Once the first round of bait was laid the eradication team left the baited motus for 10 days to allow for the poison to take effect.

During this 10 day period bird surveys were conducted on each of the islet. Sooty terns and Frigate birds were nesting and present in great numbers during the survey, with the sooty terns reaching numbers in the tens of thousands. Brown boobies, white terns and red tailed tropic birds were also nesting in healthy numbers across the islets. Interesting finds included spotting the masked boobie, and the globally threatened bristle thighed curlew which breeds in Alaska and spends its non breeding season on tropical pacific atolls.

Visiting each of the islets however, also highlighted the impacts of plastic waste and FADS that are now littering our oceans and islands. On a number of motus, plastic waste would trail along the high tide mark and would be scattered throughout the islet from past storm surveys. 50 + FADS were also spotted either washed up on land or tangled on coral heads.

On completion of the bird surveys the team returned back to Motu Kena and Motu Tou to distribute the final round of bait along each grid line. The second round was required in case the first round of baiting was affected by external circumstances such as rain or any inconsistences that may have occurred in the first round of baiting.

A week later rat traps were put out across Motu Tou to give some insight as to whether the eradication was a success. Having been left over night and checked the next day, it was definitely a sigh of relief to have not caught one rat in any of the traps, giving some level of confidence that the eradication was a success.
It will be a years time before the team are certain the eradication project was a success by re trapping. And if successful, history would have been made with Suwarrow being named rat free for the first time since human habitation.

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