Although no one is able to say exactly how old the moray eel was, many visitors to the island and local residents in Muri have enjoyed seeing the huge tame eel while on snorkelling excursions for some 30-years.
The eel, which was nearly two metres long, was one of three large moray eels in an area that hundreds of tourists a week delight in visiting while out on the popular Muri lagoon glass bottom boat cruises.
The eel would come out of its hole when snorkellers came to visit it.
Last Friday, local whale researcher Nan Hauser was at Muri lagoon when she saw a group of fishermen in the area.
The men appeared to be net fishing in a Raui area, an area protected from any fishing activity. As the men scooped fish from their nets, one man roared like a hero as he lifted the huge eel over his head to show off his prize – the tame old eel he had just speared.
On Monday, cruise tour operators in Muri confirmed that one of the three eels living in the lagoon could not be found and those outraged by what they call is an act of ‘murder’ found images on social media network Facebook of the group posing with the dead eel.
Hauser says that she has been taking her students to see the magnificent moray eel in Muri lagoon for many years.
“Every student that I have ever had has learned to love moray eels from this blessed animal.”
The group of youths and one older fisherman involved in the incident include known village athletes, who appear to not be aware of the importance of the tame eel and the status of the area.
CINews tracked down one of the young men who had been out on the fishing excursion.
The youth proudly identified himself as one of the men that had speared the fish.
When asked if he knew that the area of the lagoon where they had speared the fish was a marine protected area, the young man said they believed the location was not within a Raui.
Asked if he knew how important the eel was to the economy by providing a unique snorkelling experience for visitors to the island, the young man fell silent.
Asked what they did with the eel, he appeared to be remorseful as he responded quietly that they had buried it.
When a Raui is declared within an area of the lagoon, no activity such as fishing or collection of shellfish is permitted. The ban is enforced by traditional leaders.
The rules of the Raui have not been legislated, although there is a draft ready to be passed through Parliament.
According to Kori Raumea at the Ministry of Marine Resources, as far as they are aware, when traditional leaders introduced and promoted the Raui concept, 12 areas around Rarotonga were declared a Raui.
Today only five such areas remain. Raumea says these are located in the lagoon areas outside the Edgewater Resort in Arorangi, The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa in Aroa, a small area of lagoon in Tikioki known as ‘Motu Kore’, an area in front of the Little Polynesian in Tikioki and a small area near Avana harbour.
Raumea says that as far as he is aware, the Muri lagoon area is not protected by an actual Raui, but says the area has long been conserved by lagoon tour operators.
He says tour operators can create more awareness by informing people of the conservation work they do in the area in order to deter others from fishing in the area.
The team at Marine Resources are always available to help with mediation and discussions to progress the mana of Raui-protected areas, Raumea says.
Koka Lagoon manager Serena Hunter is among a group of locals outraged at the unnecessary killing of a gentle marine creature that provided a wonderful experience for visitors and locals using the lagoon.
"It’s not even as if it was to feed the family, it was just a pointless, unnecessary act,” says Hunter.
“And it’s not as if you had to be a good shot. That eel was tame, and would have been a sitting target.
It’s just so frustrating and disappointing."