A grumpy stonefish and a coconut crab are the only marine organisms you will find at the Discover Marine and Wildlife Eco Centre now.
Until the borders open and the tourists return, the centre’s owner has had to make the tough decision to shut down – and set free the centre’s fish and eels in the lagoon.
Stephenie Jansen said she had been taking it slow day by day since Covid caused border closures in March.
She came up with new ideas – a coffee shop, ice cream parlour and even began selling food like butter chicken – all for the love and care of the marine animals.
But she started looking at the books, and the news was all bad: “I had to put my big girl pants on, do the figures, crunch the numbers and be realistic.”
For the past couple of weeks, in order to save electricity, Jansen had moved all the fish into two tanks. For a while they seemed okay with that but, on Friday, some died.
Thats was the final sign: she closed the aquarium.
It comes after the new Tourism Industry Council president Liana Scott offered some tough advice in Cook Islands News this weekend: she said a lot of businesses should close indefinitely, to save on expenses like insurance and power bills.
“People also need to do some reality checks and see whether it’s better closing their business, going to New Zealand and coming back maybe in six months when things start to recover,” Scott said.
Closing down was the decision Jansen had to make. More than 20 fish have now been released into the lagoon behind the Marine Centre. Just yesterday, Jansen set free the centre’s distinctive black and white harlequin snake eel.
“I have mixed feelings really,” she said. “My heart hurts, but my head says it’s the right thing to do. I know it’s the right decision for our long-term wellbeing.”
The remaining coconut crab is easy to look after, Jansen says, so they have not released it. And for the safety of the public, the stonefish remains in the centre rather than being released back to the sea.
The bird rescue service run from the Marine Centre is still operating, and they are currently looking after four birds.
As for the café, the last three weeks had been hard; they had fewer and fewer customers. So closing the café doors was an easy decision to make.
For the time being, the Centre will keep selling $1 ice creams, and $2 real fruit ice creams, until they run out.
Looking forward to having more time on her hands, Jansen will be working on exhibition plans and maintenance work around the centre, in time for tourists and Cook Islanders to eventually return and enjoy the marine and wildlife centre.
Jansen acknowledged all the support they had received: “It will be back, and better than ever, when borders open.”