After reports from Koka Lagoon Cruises staff of the suspicious discovery of more than 12 empty pa’ua shells within the eco-tourism area, a visual assessment was conducted by marine scientists Kirby Morejohn and James Kora, along with senior marine ecologist Dr Lara Ainley.
It had been assumed that for such numbers of pa’ua shells to be found empty in such a short span of time, it was possible that a deliberate act of sabotage or poaching may have taken place.
According to Morejohn, “from our findings we cannot conclude whether or not this was an act of deliberate sabotage or harvest”.
“Other factors such as high levels of algal cover or predation by other organisms may also be to blame. Though for so many clams to die in such a short amount of time remains a mystery.”
“MMR is working with the House of Ariki and Aronga Mana to determine what protective measures may exist in the area, but the public should know that the pa’ua there are for the enjoyment of lagoon visitors and should not be harvested,” added Morejohn.
The MMR team has determined that, overall, the remaining pa’ua in the area are healthy.
The ministry has also provided key recommendations to the Koka Lagoon Cruises tour company for the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the lagoon eco-tourism area.
Kori Raumea, director of the Inshore Fisheries and Aquaculture division, said that MMR will continue to provide technical assistance to lagoon operators on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
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 Tikioki ecotourism area were from Aitutaki and included two different species.