He says while it is “great” that government has major infrastructure projects underway, such as the Te Mato Vai water mains and renewable energy, these do not deal with the major tourism-related issues affecting the environment
He says the situation confronting Muri lagoon is a classic example of what can happen if there is no consideration of the impact of tourism growth on the environment.
“While influx of waste water from inadequate septic systems is not the only cause (of problems with the lagoon), there is little doubt that is a significant factor,” he says in today’s Te Ipukarea Society column.
“We appreciate that the smaller scale tourism (Air BnB-type accommodation, as Finance minister Mark Brown pointed out), generally has a lower impact on our environment and major benefits to our local economy, as the money earned on these properties, generally stays in the country.
“It is the high density tourism, where anywhere from three to 300 accommodation units are squeezed into small coastal sections, that is having the largest impact on our lagoon.”
Some tourism operators, including some of the larger resorts, are making a real effort to ensure their hotels, tours and restaurants have minimal environmental impact on the island, Passfield says.
“For example, they ensure their sewage systems are fully compliant with the regulations, and have an efficient recycling and composting system operating within their own premises, reducing what they have to send to the landfill.
“A growing number actually make a contribution to the work that Te Ipukarea Society does for our environment, through the Mana Tiaki programme.
“Unfortunately, others are blindly continuing to operate in favour if their bottom line, the money, with insufficient regard for our Ipukarea.
“We know several major resorts are digging holes where they burn and bury their rubbish, rather than pay for it to be taken to the landfill.
The managers know they would never get away with that approach in Australia or New Zealand, but here they can, so they do!
What is needed is more time, effort and money being channelled by these operators into reducing their current impact on our Little Paradise before we go about encouraging additional numbers of tourists to visit.
Passfield says Rarotonga’s overflowing landfill is another issue that is getting worse, despite recent improvements in the recycling process.
“Te Ipukarea Society has been promoting a container deposit (refund to consumers upon return of the empty bottles) system for more than 10 years, in order to generate revenue to be able to ship our glass and plastics offshore.”