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Over 10,000 taramea removed, Government urged to step in

Wednesday 10 July 2024 | Written by Talaia Mika | Published in Environment, National


Over 10,000 taramea removed, Government urged to step in
Kōrero o te 'Ōrau team with the removed taramea. SUPPLIED/24070910

After managing to remove over 10,000 taramea or crown-of-thorns starfish from Rarotonga reef, Rarotonga-based NGO Kōrero o te 'Ōrau believes the government should now step in to further protect the reef.

Kōrero o te 'Ōrau chair Dr Teina Rongo and his small team have been tackling the taramea outbreak since the project started in 2020. Scuba divers have been removing the invasive species as part of a project that helps the Cook Islands combat the starfish outbreak threatening its coral reef.

Dr Rongo says having removed over 10,000 taramea from destroying the reef is a milestone but this is not the end.

“The reef is beautiful. Personally, since I started diving in the 1990, this reef now looks better. It’s beautiful and diverse, the coral cover is very high, it’s about 60 per cent,” he said.

“The average for cover in the Pacific is around 21 per cent so it’s really looking healthy now. One of the reasons why we’re doing this is when our reef dies, it increases the chances of fish poisoning occurring.

“So when the reef died up in the 1990s outbreak, we started getting those problems like fish poisoning, because that’s normally what happens when the reef dies.”

By having a healthy reef, Dr Rongo says it reduces the chances of reef from damaging.

“We’re working very hard to protect this reef so it doesn’t die. It also helps the lagoon reef to recover which is not in a good state but it will come back if you have a healthy reef on the ocean side which we call the coral reef.”

After achieving their initial goal of removing 10,000 taramea, Dr Rongo says they will continue to keep an eye out and continue monitoring it to prevent future outbreaks.

He adds government also needs to step in and put laws in place especially for fishing.

“So this is the time where we’re going to have to start looking at fishing practices especially around putting more restrictions on herbivores, fishes that eat the seaweed,” Dr Rongo suggested.

“The government has to step in and start dropping some laws around that.”

There have been two taramea outbreaks and both completely destroyed the reef, according to Dr Rongo, who has dedicated over 20 years to removing these invasive species from Rarotonga reefs.

“And we’ve also noticed from those outbreaks, the recovery is a lot slower in the second outbreak in the 1990. One outbreak in the 1970 then another one in the mid-1990. The one in 1970 took around 10 years to recover and the other took almost 20 years to get back to pre taramea conditions,” he explained.

The Kōrero o te 'Ōrau team of divers’ have also done similar operations around Mitiaro which is now clear of taramea, Aitutaki, and Ma’uke island.

They have a team of eight to 10 divers including certified students through a certification programme they carried out previously.