It’s a difficult and unexpected question …
A new turtle conservation society is to launch research into where Rarotonga’s turtles have come from – and why they are here.
Te Ara o te Onu was launched this week, with a small gathering of scientists, conservationists, tourist operators – and some people who ticked all three boxes.
The group’s formation comes after the Titikaveka community and lagoon tour operators were urged to compromise and work together on safe commercial activity in the Avaavaroa passage, to better protect the turtles.
In the Cook Islands, a small number of the endangered species has been known to breed only on Palmerston and Penrhyn. So Te Ara o te Onu is questioning whether or not Rarotonga’s turtles are breeding here too.
Large numbers of female turtles have been found to travel to Scilly atoll in French Polynesia to breed, and later travel 2000km to their feeding grounds around Fiji, New Caledonia, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
The society’s patron, Penrhyn-based zoologist Dr Michael White, has been studying the turtles.
He has planted trees on the beach to provide shade for turtle nesting sites. White said Rarotonga has a good number of green sea turtles on the reef including the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles.
White said there needs to be research done to understand the turtle’s migration such as satellite tagging of turtles, which is done in Tahiti and other parts of French Polynesia.
Julie Tamaariki, President of Te Ara o te Onu, said a desire to protect and preserve the turtles has driven them to seek more knowledge about “the dinosaurs of the sea”. The purpose of the society is to protect, research and educate.
At the Society’s launch held on Thursday night at the New Zealand High Commissioners residence, first runner up for this Year’s Miss Cook Islands Pageant and member of Te Ara O Te Onu, Emma Kainuku-Walsh also shared her journey of discovering a green turtle.
On a 13 metre dive, she remembers her dive instructor tapping her on the shoulder and five metres away was a beautiful green sea turtle.
“I remember screaming into my regulator and then there were tears rolling down from my eyes because I had seen my first turtle,” said Kainuku-Walsh.
Director of the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Gerald McCormack also attended the launch where he offered educational information on Turtles reproductive cycle.