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Tuna catche statistics from different spatial zones in the Cook Islands

At the 43rd Pacific Leaders Forum in 2012 Prime Minister Henry Puna formally launched the Cook Islands Marine Park. Now, 5 years later, it is time for the Cook Islands Government to finally make a decision on what sort of marine park we are going to have for our Marae Moana. We have heard that at the next sitting of Cabinet, on this coming Tuesday the 14th March, the Prime Minister and five MPs that make up this powerful group of decision makers will be having a very important discussion. These six individuals will decide what the size of the exclusion zones for foreign fishing boats in our Marae Moana Marine Park should be. We do hope the Ministers have been provided, and read, all the information they need to help with their decision.

As has been reported earlier, our Prime Minister has promised 50 nautical mile exclusion zones around all islands at several international meetings in recent years, including at Secretary Kerry’s State Department Ocean Conference, on June 17 2014. However, pressure from the Ministry of Marine Resources is apparently making him have second thoughts. And crunch time is approaching!

The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) has been actively pushing for only 24 nautical miles exclusion zones. They also tell us they have consulted with the northern group about how big these no foreign fishing zones will be. However we now know that in fact the people were told that the protection zones would be increased from 12 miles to 24 miles. Options for larger zones were not discussed at all. Meanwhile we believe some of the outer islands consulted recently by our traditional leaders in the southern group have said they prefer 100 nautical mile zones not 24, in order to protect their fishing livelihoods.

If people of the Cook Islands want to have a say about the size of foreign fishing exclusion zones around our islands, now would be a good time to do so.

Information to help inform the choice includes:

• 1 nautical mile is 1.84km, or nearly double the distance of 1 kilometer, so don’t get confused!

• 24nm protected zones around each of our 15 islands = about 6% of our EEZ protected, with 94% still available to foreign fishing boats.
• 50 nautical mile zones = about 20% of our EEZ protected, with 80% still available to foreign fishing boats
• 50 nautical mile around all, but 100 nautical mile around Suwarrow, our National Park, = 25% protected, with about 75% avaiable to foreign fishing boats
• 100nm around each islands = about 45% of our EEZ protected, with 55% available to foreign fishing boats.

In all four cases mentioned above, the majority (over 50%) of Cook Islands EEZ will still remain open to foreign fishing vessels.

The Secretary for Marine Resources claims that if we have closed zones larger than 24 miles, the foreign fishery cannot survive and we will lose the money we are currently receiving from fishing licences. This is not true, as can be determined from a 2015 report prepared by the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) for MMR. This report was only made available because of the Purse Seine Select Committee process late last year. The graphs in the picture from p.5 of this report show that most of the tuna is caught in the 100-200km zone (further than 50 nautical miles from the islands). Note the scale on the horizontal for each graph is different for each zone, so read the numbers on the horizontal scale (bottom of each graph) to see how much fish is caught in each zone.

So, if we close the closer areas, within 50 miles, for example, the foreign boats will have to fish further away from the islands, in locations where they are still catching most of their fish. This is unlikely to have an impact on their catches, and the Government can still collect fisheries licence revenue as they do now. Meanwhile, as the fish within that 50 mile zone will no longer be caught by foreign boats, some of these will eventually migrate closer to the islands, which will be great for local fishermen.

If you feel strongly about this issue you could contact Cabinet, and your own Member of Parliament, letting them know your preference, 24, 50, or 100 miles. That will, hopefully, help guide their discussion on Tuesday (14th March 2017).

Contact email addresses for cabinet ministers
henry.puna@cookislands.gov.ck
mark.brown@cookislands.gov.ck
albert.nicholas@cookislands.gov.ck
teariki.heather@cookislands.gov.ck
nandi@ministerglassie.gov.ck
kturepu@ministerkt.gov.ck
aukino.tairea@cookislands.gov.ck (Secretary to Cabinet)

An online dictionary defines a petrol head as a person who is overly reliant on the use of their car, resisting any suggestion to use other means of transport. As readers will know from our articles in the past, that hardly sounds like a description of an employee of Te Ipukarea Society, as we actively promote cycling and electric vehicles as a preferred means of transport. However, it seems we do now have our very own Petrel Head!

Petrels are tube-nosed seabirds, and a number of different petrel species are known from the Cook Islands. In order to learn more about these birds, and how to survey them, Te Ipukarea Society project officer Alanna Smith has recently spent 2 weeks on Little Barrier Island off Auckland with a number of petrel experts, an experience she says she will never forget. This is her story.

I had never been to an island that was solely dedicated to being a nature reserve, so I could tell right from the beginning that this was going to be quite the experience. Little Barrier Islands lies 80 km north of Auckland city on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf. It is one of New Zealand’s pest-free nature reserves, free of all introduced predators except wasps. This makes it a very important sanctuary for many of New Zealand’s threatened and native species including the Kiwi, Kakapo and Tuatara. You can only travel to Little Barrier Island on an authorised vessel, a permit from DOC to land on the island is also required, along with a strict bio-security check of all clothing and items being brought onto the island.

Once I had finally arrived onto LBI after an hour’s boat ride from sand-spit harbour, it did not take long to realise I really was in a garden of Eden. Straight away I could see the Kaka and Kakariki birds flying overhead, the Tui and Bell birds were trying to out sing each other and of course seeing the Kokako bouncing across the ground like lambs was very special to see.

My first week got off to an intense start. Having to retrieve 20 odd acoustic recorders scattered across LBI rugged terrain was quite the challenge, not to mention the rows of cutty grass we had to push through to get to them. We don’t have this awful cutty grass back home so of course my first two surveys saw myself wearing shorts and a singlet, as I would have done so back home. This outfit was quickly changed for the remanding surveys.

During that first week, I was also introduced to the NZ Black Petrel. I got a real hands-on experience holding these big seabirds and carefully learnt how to direct them in and out of their burrows. After handling the bird, banding it if needed and checking its nest for eggs or chicks I was surprised that when putting the bird back in its burrow it did not turn around and attack us for messing with its nest and manhandling it. I just assumed it would have, as I haven’t had great experiences with our local chickens at home.

My second week on the island involved conducting a survey on the NZ Storm Petrel. The NZ Storm Petrel was thought to be extinct back in 2003 until it was rediscovered in 2013 by a local fisherman. It was interesting to see how the NZ Storm petrel were caught, which involved the use of high beam lights, mesmerising the small petrel bird towards the ground. It was great to see the little NZ Storm petrel up close. They were a very quiet bird and did not screech once when they were being banded or measured. I had the important role of placing these little Storm petrels into their new manmade burrows.

Walking by myself in the dark to these burrows some 200 odd meters away however did come with some interesting encounters that I’d never forget. For instance, one encounter involved a mysterious flying bird, which flew onto my back as I was walking back to the rest of my team. I got the shock of my life and started running for about 20 m, and then proceeded at a fast walk back to my work colleagues who had no idea of the commotion I had just been through. My second encounter however occurred as I was walking towards the burrows and saw what I thought was a kiwi but turned out to be a Kakapo, right there in the open cut grass area, a good 3 m away from me. We both stood still for a good 8 seconds before the Kakapo realised I had actually spotted her, she then darted off into the nearby bush.

After having arrived back home I’m now looking forward to utilizing my skills learnt on LBI, particularly those skills on the Black Petrel Survey. For instance, (funding dependent) I hope to potentially work on a new project that will involve the surveying and monitoring of the Herald petrel population, which can be found on the Maungatea Bluff on Rarotonga. Knowing so little about this species on Rarotonga is a major obstacle in terms of formulating a conservation plan, if in fact one were needed. There has been little recent activity in terms of seabird projects within the Cook Islands. So, with my new passion and drive for seabird conservation, I hope to jumpstart a bit more excitement within this area, particularly among our youth. A very big thank you to the Arcadia Foundation for supporting my travel costs, and of course to Chris Gaskin from Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust for the training opportunity and Dan Burgin from Wildlife Management International (NZ) for being patient with me during these tiring hikes and showing me the ways around Black Petrel handling and surveying.

Front line staff member Talei Samuels from Muri Beachcomber has been our top Mana Tiaki donation collector for the past three month. For Talei’s awesome efforts she received an Aitutaki day tour trip for two thanks to one of our awesome Mana Tiaki sponsors Air Rarotonga!
December is when our next top donation collector will be named and will be awarded with a pass for two to splash out with the team from Koka Lagoon Cruises, discover our marine life with Raro Reef Sub, enjoy the island with the crew from Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours and of course some scuba fun with the Big Fish dive centre.

Meitaki Maata to all our participating Mana Tiaki accommodations who have signed up with the programme along with our new accommodations who have also jumped on board to be a Mana Tiaki Guardian and of course leading the way in ‘Protecting a little paradise’.

Check out our newly completed conservation documentary/ Management Plan for the Tanga’eo (Mangaian Kingfisher), created for the community of Mangaia.

We thank Mangaia School, Jason Tuara, Allan Tuara, Taoi Nooroa, Anthony Whyte, and the many members of the Mangaia Community who have supported the Tanga’eo Project, as well as Carinna Langsford, Teresa Arneric and Ian Karika from Te Ipukarea Society who were involved in the earlier stages of the project.
And of course the Aage V. Jensen Foundation and BirdLife International for funding the project.

Link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3H-oYruA-E

Mana Tiaki Strategic Areas

The Mana Tiaki campaign provides visitors to the Island the opportunity to contribute back to the Cook Islands and support conservation efforts.
All donations made by guest will go towards the upkeep of environmental projects implemented by Te Ipukarea Society.Funds will be channelled into 5 strategic areas being Climate Change, Biodiversity, Eco sustainable development, Youth and Waste Management.
How your donations have been utilised can be tracked through this web page. The Mana Tiaki team do however require your patients at this stage as the Mana Tikai web page link is still currently under construction. Because Mana Tiaki is still in its pilot programme phase, information on how donations have been utilized will become avaialable early July, once the programme has undergone a full launch.

BIG thank you to our awesome Mana Tiaki sponsors, for kick starting the programme – Air Rarotonga, Koka Lagoon Cruises, Dive Centre, Story Tellers, Raro Reef Sub.

Taro terraces in the Takuvaine valley

A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands around the world play a very important role in keeping our Earth healthy. They are a habitat for a number of plants and animals that have adapted to living in these watery environments. Wetlands also provide many services which people take for granted, some of which will be covered in this article.

The Cook Islands are fortunate to have four types of wetlands:

• Freshwater marshes and swamps: on Rarotonga, Mangaia, Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke.

• Permanent freshwater lakes: Lake Tiriara on Mangaia, Lake Tiroto on Atiu, and Lake Rotonui and Lake Rotoiti on Mitiaro.

• Tidal salt marsh: at Ngatangiia Harbour on Rarotonga.

• Mountain streams: on Rarotonga.

The most common use of the freshwater swamps are for the cultivation of taro. Cultivation methods of taro in freshwater wetlands include raised taro beds (pa’i taro), taro swamp (repo tavari) or irrigated taro terraces (such as those found in the Takuvaine and Tupapa valley streams). The cultivation of taro in wetlands is very important to our food security in the Cook Islands, particularly in the outer islands.

Rarotonga also hosts the only remaining tidal salt marsh in the country – the Aroko Salt Marsh in Ngatangiia. This salt marsh is different to freshwater swamps where we grow our taro, as the area is covered by salt water during high tide. The Aroko Salt Marsh provides habitat to certain marine species found nowhere else in the Cook Islands such as the Koiti Raukura (Fiddler Crab), and provide shelter and safe hatchery conditions for important lagoon fish species.

Aside from providing food in the form of taro, and a habitat for a wide variety of animal species, wetlands provide a number of other benefits to people, here are some of them:

• Many people are unaware that wetlands are important natural filters for sediments and man-made pollution, by preventing pollution from entering the lagoon. (This service should be valued now more than ever due to current issues of lagoon pollution on Rarotonga).

• Wetlands also provide protection from natural disasters such as flooding from extreme rain events. The wetlands act as a natural buffer, soaking up large amounts of water and reducing the frequency and intensity of floods.

• A number of wetland plant species are used in traditional maori medicine, such as mauku vai (water grass), ta’uri’au and tamore.

• Other services include coloring and hardening of wooden artefacts.

Unfortunately, our Cook Island wetlands have been shrinking for decades due to development and conversion into agricultural land. Many businesses and landowners fill in swampland with soil and coral rocks so they can construct buildings on the land. It is not just filling up the wetland, but also building around them can block off the natural drainage flows, rendering the wetland useless.

A ra’ui to protect the filling in of wetlands would be ideal, just as ra’ui are placed on lagoon areas, wetland areas are also vitally important to the health of our islands and people. People need to be aware of the importance of these ancient wetlands and the role they play not only in providing food, but in filtering our pollution, providing a home for biodiversity and preventing flooding.

Wetlands should be utilized for their agricultural potential as taro plantations, however people should refrain from filling in wetlands or dumping rubbish or pouring chemicals into wetlands. As many of these chemicals will end up in our taro patches, the saying goes: you reap what you sow! Lets look after our wetlands so that future generations can benefit from them.

This article comes from Te Ipukarea Society’s weekly ‘environment column’ in the Cook Islands News

One of the Hungrybin worm farms Te Ipukarea Society is providing to Cook Island schools

Wriggly worms play a vital role in our environment. They eat all day and can turn waste into compost. Today, all this useful service can now be contained in the form of a ‘worm farm’. Worm farms allow us to recycle our food scraps and significantly reduce the amount of organic waste being sent to landfills.

The worms used in worm farms are in fact compost worms, which are different to the regular earthworms found in garden soil. Compost worms are surface feeders and don’t burrow deep into the soil like garden earthworms do. If you want to find compost worms on Rarotonga, underneath old puru and pig pen sites are your best bet. Compost worms are capable of eating their own body weight in food each day. So a kilogram of worms will consume that much food daily! In comparison, garden earthworms only eat around half their body weight each day, so they aren’t as good at composting lots of material really quickly, as it take them twice as long.

The valuable compost produced by these special worms is made up of worm poo, also known as ‘castings’. There are two by-products from a worm farm, these are vermicasts, (a soil-like material) and a liquid being ‘worm tea’.

Vermicasts makes for high quality soil conditioner, and can be added to the garden or pot plants. Worm tea is the liquid waste from the worms (pee/mimi) and is usually separated out from the compost through a tap or outlet. Worm tea is liquid gold for your garden, it makes for great fertiliser and can be sprayed over the garden with a watering can.

Feeding these hungry worms is simple, but there are a few rules, for instance there are some things that compost worms just won’t eat, and there are other things that are just simply unhygienic to put into a worm farm.

Things you can put into your worm farm includes, most fruit & vegie scraps, Cooked food, tea leaves/bags and coffee grounds, egg shells as they are a great source of calcium which worms require in their diet to stay healthy, paper tissues, handy towels, toilet roll inners, shredded moist newspaper & cardboard.

Things not to put into your worm farms include citrus, acidic fruit skin, spicy foods, onion, garlic, leeks, capsicums, meat and dairy products, bread, pasta and processed wheat along with shiny paper and fats and oils.

Establishing and maintain a worm farm is not only environmentally-friendly, but is great fun and an excellent way to educate owners into getting in touch with the natural world along with providing a sense of responsibility for ones actions in the world we live in.

Te Ipukarea Society aims to spread this experience amongst all our school in the Cook Islands, by providing each of the schools with a portable worm farm to maintain and care for. How to build a portable worm farm along with what makes for a healthy worm farm will all be taught to each of the schools in order to start a sustainable waste management process that could improve our recycling habits. Araura College was the first school to receive their worm-farm, and Te Uki Ou School received theirs earlier this week, and will be keeping theirs next to their Rent-A-Plate stall at the Muri night market, in order to make the most of the food scraps people leave on their plates!

This article comes from Te Ipukarea Society’s weekly ‘environment column’ in the Cook Islands News

African Tulip Trees in the Takitumu Conservation Area, Rarotonga

The Spathodea campanulata also commonly known as the African tulip tree is a large tree that can reach 50 ft in height. Because of its beautiful red orange flowers, fast growth and relative ease of cultivation, the African tulip tree is widely utilized around the world as a decorative plant. Along with its decorative features it is also commonly used as a shade tree in parks and is frequently used as living fence posts. However looks can be deceiving when it comes to this pretty tree, as it has become a serious threat when considering the wellbeing of our indigenous biodiversity and agriculture. It has been nominated as among 100 of the “World’s Worst” invaders.

The African tulip tree is native to Central and West Africa. However it has managed to blossom its way across to the Pacific Islands including American Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Niue, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands. Amongst some of these islands, it has become a destructive weed, invading indigenous forests along with greatly impacting agricultural production.

Within the Cook Islands the African tulip tree can be found on the islands of Rarotonga, Atiu, Mauke, Aitutaki and Manihiki. It was originally introduced to the Cook Islands as an ornamental plant. Today it is viewed as a problematic invasive alien plant, and worrying evidence from neighboring Pacific Islands suggests that the problem is likely to become much more severe if control measures are not implemented.

Controlling the spread of the African tulip tree through mechanical and herbicidal actions has proven to be very labor intensive and expensive, as experienced by our sister island countries such as Fiji. Ringbarking has also been found to be ineffective as only the above ground parts of the plant are killed. Although herbicide application can effectively kill the plant, this method has been found impractical for the Cook Islands as the African tulip tree already covers large areas of the land, as a result of the vast amount of seeds produced.

With methods to eradicate the African tulip tree falling short, one potential solution involves the introduction of microscopic insects, called galling mites (Colomerusspathodeae), which can cause the deformation of the stems and petioles of the African tulip tree, causing the tree to die. The galling mite can be found throughout the native distribution of the African tulip tree, thus it is abundant in Ghana and present in Uganda in East Africa. The galling mite is host specific to the African tulip tree, so in other words, only feeds on this plant. There has been no record of the galling mite feeding on any other plant species, making the galling mite a potential controlling agent for the Cook Islands.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been produced on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture for the introduction of the galling mite into the Cook Islands and published in December 2015. The environmental consequences reported within section 3 of the EIA have stated some interesting points, which highlight
• Doing nothing about the tree will result in continued invasion and a range of negative impacts to native species, medicinal plants, aesthetic values and agricultural productivity.

‘But’
• Permanent reductions in the number of the African tulip trees could result in replacement by other invasive species.

The EIA then concludes that ‘the risks of introducing C. spathodeaeas (Galling mite) a biological control agent are minimal and the potential benefits to native biodiversity and agriculture are substantial.’

A robust protocol for the introduction of the galling mite into the Cook Islands has been designed and described within the EIA, stating the use of powerful microscopes to be used to ensure no contaminants (i.e other mites) are mixed in with the sample brought to the Cook Islands. Initial mass rearing will be conducted in shade house conditions by Cook Islands Ministry of Agriculture staff along with the assistance of Dr Iain Paterson from Rhodes University Biological Control Quarantine Facility, Grahamstown, South Africa (who will travel on the same flight as the shipment of mites). Monitoring of plots at its initial stages will also be set to assess the impacts of mite within the Cook Islands.

Currently the EIA for the ‘Application to introduce Colomerusspathodeae for biological control of Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) in the Cook Islands is open for submission. The EIA for this application can view found online on the National Environment Service page, with hard copies found at Te Ipukarea Society office in Tupapa, as well as other locations.

The African tulip tree biocontrol project is part of a $1 million plan to introduce biological controls for a number of the most invasive weeds in the Cook Islands, and is being carried out jointly by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Landcare Research New Zealand and the Cook Islands Ministry of Agriculture.

This article comes from Te Ipukarea Society’s weekly ‘environment column’ in the Cook Islands News

This map shows the Cook Islands EEZ, with the 50nm

Zoning is a management strategy for protecting marine areas. A healthy, thriving marine ecosystem not only improves environmental health but also boosts tourism and reinforces the Cook Islands’ commitment to sustainable development. Zoning is currently being practiced in major marine protected areas around the world and represents a commitment to preserve marine biodiversity.

At the most basic level, zoning divides a marine area up into different sections with varying levels of protection. Each zone has a specific list of activities that are permissible within that area. Typically, zones fall into three categories: protection, recreation, and commercial.

• “Protection” areas are generally off-limits to humans, allowing for the restoration of ecosystem health. Occasionally, scientific studies may be allowed in protection areas. In the Cook Islands, for example, we could have zones that prohibit large scale industrial fishing (such as long lining and purse seining), and zones that prohibit seabed mining. For inshore areas there may be gear restrictions such as no net fishing, or species restrictions such as a ban on trochus collecting.

• “Recreation” areas are generally only open to non-threatening, recreational activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, and boating. Fishing is generally prohibited in these areas. The tourism sector can take advantage of these recreation areas.

• “Commercial” areas are generally open to business interests such as fishing boats and mining companies. The most effective way to manage these commercial areas is with an effective licensing and regulation system in place.

Though official studies of the success of zoning are still in progress, there are several indications that this management technique is effective. Marine areas split into zones have seen greater fish population sizes and larger individual fish sizes, both important for the reproductive success of a species. Zoning seems to work particularly well because it can conserve the entire ecosystem, rather than just some species.

For example, a successful zoning plan in the Cook Islands has the potential to protect the 25 species of coral, 8 species of fish, 3 species of turtle, and 3 species of whale that are present in Cook Islands waters whose populations are globally threatened. It could also help protect bigeye tuna from the impacts of fishing and deep sea mining in their spawning grounds, and conserve other stocks from large scale commercial fishing in areas that support small scale fisheries around our islands.

The future of the Cook Islands is dependent on a healthy environment, both on the land and in the sea. Recognising this, the Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna announced to the world in June 2014 that there will be a 50 nautical mile “no commercial fishing” zone around the Islands included in the Marae Moana marine park. One nautical mile is equivalent to 1.85km, so this makes an impressive 92.5km zone around each island. Once this is legislated, the Cook Islands will be seen as an example for the rest of the world to follow, in implementing an effective and meaningful zoning system for management of the Marae Moana Marine Park.

This article was the first of Te Ipukarea Society’s weekly ‘environment column’ in the Cook Islands News (usually found in the Saturday edition).

Helen’s car runs on electricity created by solar power – no emissions!

John Hay and Helen Henry have had solar hot water heating in their home since its construction in 1994. After 21 Years of zero maintenance, the single panel unit finally needed replacing in 2015! Also in 2015, the couple installed a 10 panel 2.5 kilowatt DC solar system with 2kW inverted AC system to cover their household electricity needs including energy to run their new car!

In 2015 the couple replaced their petrol-fuelled car with an all-electric 2012 Nissan Leaf. According to the couple, the on-the-road cost (shipping to Rarotonga and all additional expenses) was $30,000. After two hours of charging, a fully charged battery will allow the car to travel 160km, the equivalent of driving five times around Rarotonga!

Aside from having solar-powered home and vehicle, they have converted all lighting in their home to LED lighting – which are known to use much less electricity than traditional lights. The couple also informed TIS they have a net-metering contract with Te Aponga Uira where any excess electricity generated by the panels is turned into credit which can be used when demand exceeds supply (resets annually). Through daily recording, John and Helen have been able to monitor system performance and even create graphs to show accumulated energy created by the solar panels.

We would like to thank John and Helen for sharing in their successes with solar power and for being awesome examples of using renewable energy to reduce their impact on the environment and also save money.

This article comes from Te Ipukarea Society’s weekly ‘environment column’ in the Cook Islands News

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