The school’s Facebook page features a video of the team at the beach sharing tips for keeping Paradise clean. Of course this applies to all the Cook Islands.
A couple of years ago, Mayor Tekura (Po’o) Bishop stopped his van beside me as I was walking along with a grabby stick and large bag, clearing manmade rubbish from the sides of the road. “Good on you,” he said. “I’ll be by later to take that bag.” Sadly, within a half hour it was full, mostly of discarded bottles. True to his word, Po’o popped in to take the bag, saying, “I’m going to table this for the Island Council”, and sure enough, he did – literally.
There have been many efforts to preserve beauty and cleanliness across our community, both on land and sea.
A foreshore protection programme for planting young coconuts is sponsored by SRIC-CC as part of a climate-change initiative and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management has assisted these efforts as well. There is also a Vaka Project with villages waging regular clean-up campaigns.
What I am personally most excited about is a recent initiative by the Aitutaki Conservation Trust, in association with Tourism and the Island Council.
With funding from the Global Environment Programme, they have hired a ‘Keep Aitutaki Clean’ officer. He is making a visible difference by patrolling the roads around the island to pick up any plastic or glass from public areas, as well as managing the Enviro Loos placed at O’otu and Base One beaches, which turn waste into dry, odour-free compost without using water, power or chemicals – modern-day magic that is completely environment-friendly.
Driving around the island, seeing clean hedges, I’m happy to know that someone cares enough to keep them that way. I tell the officer, “You’re doing Godly work”, quoting a sermon by John Wesley, who said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. He smiles and nods his head, proud of the cleanliness he is safeguarding.
There is one area that Papa Terepoto Williams of the Island Council says used to be maintained by caring folks in the community, one that concerns me whenever I take my island mokopuna to one of the most gorgeous beaches on the island, situated by the Aitutaki Golf Club and Airport.
It is ringed by ancient makatea – petrified stone imbedded with fossils and shells. The waves crashing onto the reef are very close here. It’s a great place to see crabs scrambling over the rocks, eels swimming by, and whales too, in season.
I take the children there each month to see the full moon rise. The problem is that foreign rubbish, from large plastic hoses to all manner of odd bottles and shoes washes up often from overseas, marring the pure white sand and rich harvest of seashells above the makatea.
This is where another partner needs to enter the fight – the community. I know several locals willing to regularly show up with gloves and bags to gather up the rubbish. My mokos and I will be among them. Papa Williams is happy to lead the effort once again. If you are one of those who “loves it enough”, stay tuned for news of when to join the rubbish vigilantes.
Katrina Armstrong of the Aitutaki Conservation Trust is very encouraged by the appointment of a ‘Keep Aitutaki Clean’ officer. She, Mayor Bishop and the Island Council are hopeful our government will fund this position fully so that the saying ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ can continue to be realised on this jewel of the Pacific.