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Public input sought on draft plan for turtles and marine life

Saturday 1 June 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Environment, National


Public input sought on draft plan for turtles and marine life
Avaavaroa Passage in Vaimaanga. BYRON BROWN / 24052121/24052122

Cook Islands National Environment Service’s draft Environment Management Plan for the southern sea passages of Rarotonga, which focuses on addressing matters such as turtle conservation, is expected to be released by the end of June.

Earlier this year, the National Environment Service (NES) advertised a competitive role as it looked for a qualified and experienced consultant to develop the management plan.

The successful applicants were Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) and Te Puna Vai Marama who are jointly working and had already begun their public consultations.

NES partnership manager Hayley Weeks said they expected a summary report to be produced by the end of May, followed by a draft plan in June.

Weeks said a consultation was held in Vaimaanga by TIS, while Te Puna Vai Marama have been conducting desktop research. The results of these will inform the draft management plan.

She said the draft plan would then be open for a one-month public consultation period. The consultation will be publicly advertised and the draft plan will be available on the NES website.

“For any key stakeholders or interested parties who would like to provide a submission to the draft plan, those will then be considered and incorporated where relevant for our final plan,” Weeks said.

“Once this final plan is in place, we hope that will provide some good guidance and best practices to operators and users of the area to ensure that there is no harmful impact to threatened species of the area, such as turtles, as well as others, as well as the habitat of the area, such as corals, which we understand can also be damaged through unsustainable behaviour…”

Weeks explained that under the current Act, anyone who breaches the management plan once it’s in place will face a $5000 penalty. The courts will process these fines upon evidence of such violations.

“As part of the work that NES is doing with TIS and Te Puna Vai Marama, we will also be doing public workshops, so that once the plan is in place, we can raise awareness, so that the community and the users of the area are aware of what the provisions may be, and how they can comply, otherwise support and help the enforcement of this.”

NES director Halatoa Fua earlier stated the plan was their response to the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Cook Islands Tourism and turtle tour operators.

NES had stated that following ongoing concerns from various stakeholders, multi-government agency meetings were held between NES, Cook Islands Tourism, and the Ministry of Marine Resources to identify options to address the mounting concerns with the way turtle tours in the southern Rarotonga passages, particularly Avaavaroa, were being conducted.

Concerns vary from the disturbance to the endangered turtle’s present and coral destruction, to safety and the Cook Islands’ reputation as a responsible and sustainable tourism destination.

The consultants will assist the NES Project ENUA team and its partners to complete stakeholder mapping and consultations, desktop assessments and briefing note/summary report, a draft management plan for review and input, a final plan, and provide recommendations.