The theft has upset Koka Lagoon Cruises manager Serena Hunter and her staff - with Hunter saying it’s not the first time such an incident has occured.
“It’s quite devastating to have it happen again, especially in what is supposed to be a ra’ui area,” she says.
The empty shells were discovered by staff last Thursday and Koka Lagoon Cruises staff member Papa Jack says they found some of them hidden under rocks.
“Some of the giant clams were brought in from the Ministry of Marine Resources marine research centre hatchery in Aitutaki. We had cages to try and protect them, and it’s really upsetting to have someone come and rip into them,” says Hunter.
She says the clams take years to mature, and are an endangered species.
“For someone to come in and rip into a number of them and try to hide the shells is almost criminal. It’s a ra’ui area and supposed to be a protected reserve to preserve what little we have left in our lagoon.”
She says the success of the ra’ui relies on people being honest, and asks residents to keep a lookout for suspicious activity in the lagoon.
Director of Inshore Fisheries and Aquaculture Division, Kori Raumea says there is high suspicion of a deliberate act of sabotage or harvest, and the incident will be investigated further.
MMR has been working closely with the House of Ariki, alongside other stakeholders to clarify and support the ra’ui system of resource management for the area. Ra’ui and marine conservation areas are priorities within MMRs work programmes, Raumea says.
“MMR will look into the matter and provide further comment.
“Clams and other marine life within this ecotourism area are for the taking of photos, not dinner.”
In 2010, MMR helped set up lagoon tour sites both in Aitutaki and Rarotonga, under the Cook Islands Marine Resources Institutional Strengthening project.
The project encourages operators to look after and maintain these sites. The pa’ua relocated to the Titioki ecotourism area from Aitutaki, included two different species.