Puna said to this day he still considers himself a pearl farmer and has confirmed that when he ends his term serving as PM, he would return to his original dream.
He began his days as a simple pearl farmer on Manihiki living close to nature and relying on the generosity of the sea for his sustenance.
“Just as my forefathers and many other Pacific Islanders have continued to do for untold generations,” Puna said while addressing a delegation at the at the 11th Conference of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea, New Caledonia last week.
When Puna began his pearl business it did not get off to a promising start because right after four days of completing the first pearl seeding, Cyclone Martin struck Manihiki.
Cyclone Martin hit the island on November 1, 1997, the most tragic storm to hit Cook Islands.
The prime minister said some may not know that he did not have a promising start as a pearl farmer. And due to Cyclone Martin the entire island population of Manihiki had to be evacuated and many people lost their lives.
“While this risk has always existed, the changes in global climate now occurring have dramatically increased that risk,” Puna said.
He said today, Manihiki and other atoll communities across the Pacific, remain highly vulnerable to the increased frequency and intensity of cyclones, sea surges, and coral degradation as a result of climate change.
The ocean stewardship role is taken seriously by the Cook Islands, as in other Pacific nations to balance commercial interests against conservation ambitions, Puna said.
He explained that the pearl farms of the Cook Islands are a great example of this dedication to balance.
Puna said this is laid out in detail in the Manihiki Pearl Farming Management Plan, which the Manihiki community and Cook Islands government developed with the assistance of SPC.
For pearl farming, Puna said an oyster shell on its own is worthless until the shell is taken, cut and polished, and not until that little bead is inserted into an oyster, “can we ever hope to grow a pearl”.