Called Aitutaki Reef-Keepers, the programme is teaching students and tourists how to plant live coral and young pa’ua (giant clams) directly into the lagoon.
It is a collaboration between the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources, the Ministry of Tourism, Aitutaki Conservation Trust and local schools.
Last year, more 70 students from Araura College attended coral and clam-planting sessions at the Aitutaki Marine Research Centre (AMRC). Last week, 12 students and five parents visiting Aitutaki from Whangarei, New Zealand, also participated.
In a single day, the visiting students planted about 40 coral fragments and 30 pa’ua clams into the lagoon. Over time, each species will grow to help restore respective populations in the lagoon. Richard Story, Senior Fisheries Officer at Aitutaki Marine Research Centre, said “The Ministry of Marine Resources, in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism, strongly supports conservation programmes that improve the health of our marine ecosystems.
“We fully urge all tour operators in the Cooks Islands, especially Aitutaki and Rarotonga to take the opportunity to learn this simple coral-planting skill and help improve your areas of the lagoon. Every little bit helps. It was wonderful to see so many youth enthusiastic at the opportunity to help.”
This sentiment was echoed during a recent Aitutaki Island Council meeting, whose members offered complete support for the programme, particularly the orientation towards youth and tourism audiences.