The year that was…
2023 has been a jam packed year, with lots of local engagement, off island expeditions, and everyday work. Te Ipukarea Society has kept busy covering the many different focus areas that we have, and are very grateful for all the collaborations, opportunities and engagements we have been able to make this year. 2024 is rapidly approaching and we would like to take some time to reflect on the highlights of this year. We have made both local and international achievements, which makes the work that we do, all the more worth it.
Local highlights for 2023, include our collaboration with Korero o te Orau and Cook Islands Voyaging Society, delivering two, science and cultural based senior school holiday programs. The first program in July was terrestrial focus, and the second in October covered pockets of the marine space. The terrestrial programme introduced the students to the diverse ecosystems and biodiversity of the Takitumu Conservation Area. The marine programme included visiting to one of Rarotonga's eastern anchored fishing aggregation devices (FADs), and visiting the Avaavaroa passage to participate in a turtle monitoring program. This collaboration was the perfect opportunity for the NGOs to explore their collective strengths, exposing healthy and productive pathways for our mapu.
Another local highlight for this year was the most recent rat eradication exercise undertaken in Palmerston Atoll. Last year, an initial visit was made to consult the community on what to expect, how to prepare, and the various responsibilities leading up to, during and after the eradication program was completed. Then, in August this year, a team of 8 fieldworkers arrived to work with the Palmerston community to eradicate the rats on both Cooks Islet and Home Islet, two out of the 11 motu on Palmerston which had rats. The field team included representatives from The Department of Conservation, Cook Islands National Environment Service, Ministry of Agriculture and Te Ipukarea Society, who collectively increased the Palmerston population by 30% on their arrival. Palmerston's isolation and location make it a hot spot for nesting seabirds and nesting turtle populations, which was a large factor in the decision to undergo a rat eradication. It will take about 6 months before we know if the eradication was a success or not, If it is, Palmerston will be the first rat free inhabited island in the Cook Islands, and possibly the South Pacific.
The launch of Deep Rising was another successful local highlight for 2023. In collaboration with the Pacific Network for Globalisation (PANG), we were able to premiere this thought-provoking documentary, in both Rarotonga, as well as Make, with an open invitation to all locals and visitors alike to come and view the film. Deep Rising shines a light on the potential environmental and economic impacts of deep sea mining, and how little we know about the deep sea environment. The launch was in time for the Pacific Island Leaders Forum meeting, so that some of our Pacific leaders could attend. We were fortunate to begin the evening with some opening remarks from President Whipps from Palau. He expressed his support for a moratorium and the decision Palau, as well as many other countries around the world, have made ‘to allow for the proper research to be done, and not to destroy something that we can never bring back.’ Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu Minister for Climate Change, Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo Hazards and Environment made the closing remarks, expressing his support for a moratorium on deep seabed mining. Informal discussions continued over the road at Trader Jacks, with a lot of positive feedback received about the film. With the local launch of this film, we hope to continue educating the people of the Cook Islands on the potential negative impacts that are either not mentioned or glossed over in government consultations. We are about to enter into the third year of the exploration phase, which is meant to help decide whether mining should go ahead.
An international highlight for 2023 was our attendance and accreditation at the International Seabed Authority meetings (ISA). The ISA has been meeting for 28 years now, with a dual mandate of regulating mining of the seabed, and also protecting that same seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction (also known as international waters, high seas, or simply the area). These meetings now occur 3 times a year as a result of the industry and some pro-mining developing states putting pressure on the council to move faster in creating seabed mining regulations. In March this year, for the first time ever, indigenous non-government representatives from the Pacific attended the ISA meetings in Jamaica. Te Ipukarea Society was among the Pacific delegations that were vocal in calling for a moratorium or pause on deep seabed mining. On return to the July ISA meeting, the assembly approved eight requests for observer status, including Te Ipukarea Society (TIS). Observer status now provides TIS the opportunity to make statements during the Assembly and Council meetings. Te Ipukarea Society is the first national NGO in the Pacific to be accepted as an observer at the ISA. This is a big achievement for us as a society, as a country, and as members of the Pacific community. We will do our best to ensure your voice is heard, and our environment is as protected as it can be for future generations to come.
Towards the end of the year, we also engaged with the fisheries sector, an area of vital importance to Pacific peoples. We attended the 3rd Community Based Fisheries Dialogue in Noumea in October, where we ensured the Cook Islands has a voice at the regional level for community fisheries. We also attended the 20th session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission held right here in Rarotonga this week, where we submitted an information paper on the potential impacts of deep seabed mining on our regional tuna fishery.
The Ipukarea Society will continue working towards a healthy environment for current and future generations to thrive in. We very much appreciate the support from partners both local and international over the past 12 months.