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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.

Alanna's wearable arts costume represented the Rimatara Lorikeet (Kura)

Te Ipukarea Society Project officer Alanna Smith, was crowned Miss Cook Islands 2017 on 29th July. During Alanna’s campaign she showcased her Atiuan roots from presenting herself as the female warrior Aketairi through her traditional costume and within the wearable arts section as the endangered (IUCN Red list) Kura bird of Atiu (Rimatara lorikeet). Alanna was also able to promote the work of Te Ipukarea Society during her Q & A sections.

Alanna’s next challenge now as the new Miss Cook Islands is to take on Miss World to be held in Singapore and China in November this year. Alanna will continue to work for Te Ipukarea Society and be a strong advocate for the work that the society does along with raising further awareness around conservation within schools and within communities throughout the Cook Islands.

Liam gets up close with a curious juvenile humpback Liam with the BPM team

Te Ipukarea Society Project Officer Liam Kokaua was fortunate to be able to participate in scientific research of the East Australian Humpback populations in the Great Barrier Reef last week. Here is a summary of his experience:

Humpback whales are a large whale species growing up to 16 metres in length. They often make seasonal migrations across thousands of miles of ocean. There are many distinct Humpback populations around the world and they can be found in all the world’s oceans and in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The population we were studying were the East Australian Humpback (EAH) sub-stock, which is a part of the wider South West Pacific population. The EAH sub-stock travel from the cold waters off Antarctica where they feed on food such as krill, to the warm and calm waters within the Great Barrier Reef to breed and give birth.

The history of this population is one of tragedy as well as resilience. After traditional whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries, followed by the highly efficient “scientific” whaling by Russia in the 20th Century, there was estimated to be only 200 whales left from an original number of approximately 30,000. However since whaling pressure was reduced in the 1970’s their numbers have grown exponentially to an estimated 30,000 (similar to their historic numbers), and their numbers are still increasing! Other populations in the South West Pacific have not been able to rebound so quickly and in some areas their continued existence into the future is uncertain.

Working with the Blue Planet Marine team (BPM) aboard the vessel Flying Fish V I was able to learn first-hand how to collect scientific data from humpbacks. This included:

• How to spot humpback whales and identify their behaviour from a distance (exhalation, breaching, pectoral fin and fluke slapping etc.)
• How to take high quality identification photos of dorsal fins and tail flukes which are used to identify individuals
• Learning how to determine the social structure of a pod (i.e mother and calf, male ‘escorts’, a ‘competitive pod’ of males chasing a female, and so on).
• Learning how to take biopsy (DNA) data, which includes retrieving sloughed skin (dead skin which whales leave on the surface of the water), and taking live tissue samples, which requires firing a small dart which collects a small amount of tissue from the whale
• Recording underwater whale song and other social sounds through use of a hydrophone

The biopsy data is useful for building our understanding of humpback whales for a number of reasons, but one of special interest for us in the Cooks is trying to identify whether the whales in the EAH sub-stock have genetic overlap with the sub-stocks which visit the South Pacific. There is a belief amongst some whale researchers that the whales which visit the GBR may also be a part of the sub-stocks which visit the South Pacific Islands, which includes Tonga, Niue, and our own whales here in the Cook Islands.

Thanks to the BPM team for having me on board during the six days, and for teaching me so many crucial skills for marine mammal research. Thanks also to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for covering the costs of my participation on this research project. I feel I have learnt a lot about Humpbacks and marine mammals in general and look forward to being able to use these skills I have learnt again in the future here in the Cook Islands, as well as better advocate for the wellbeing and conservation policy for marine mammals here in the Cook Islands as well as the wider Oceania region.

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
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:


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

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