Cook Islands Tourism says the Titikaveka community is concerned about both water safety and the large numbers of tourists disturbing the biodiversity in the Avaavaroa passage.
Metua Vaiimene, director of destination development says the community has called for a ban on commercial activity in the passage, and he is asking operators and the community to coordinate with each other to limit the numbers of people that are going there at any one time.
“From a purely conservational perspective, banning commercial activity in the Avaavaroa passage will probably help to preserve the marine life. However, from a sustainable development perspective, we need to draw on all resources and the tour operators are a resource in this particular instance,” Vaiimene said.
He said tourism provides an opportunity to better understand marine biodiversity and conservation.
“We can use tourism and science to understand these natural resources and protect them.”
Some of the commercial activity that is being generated from the turtles finds its way back to supporting turtle conservation.
This is the purpose of the turtle society Te Ara O Te Onu, that has been set up by Ariki Adventures to take some of what they are making off the environment and giving it back through research and data gathering.
Vaiimene said “The National Environment Service and Ministry of Marine Resources don’t have accurate data or do not currently collect data in relation to these turtles.
“We are not sure where they are come from, how many of them there are, and if they are even nesting here on Rarotonga. Therefore, we don’t know what kinds of pressures are on them.”
He added some tour operators now have 18 months’ worth of data, where they have recorded the activity of the turtles in the passage.
Vaiimene said “One of the Ridge to Reef Project initiatives is helping tour operators collect more information and data, so we are better placed to make decisions on how to manage the resource. That information would not be available if the operators weren’t providing it.”
He said they want to look at ways in which the biodiversity can be better protected, especially the endangered turtles.