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Manuae Enua Conservation Trust sets out its goals in policy document

Tuesday 7 February 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Environment, Local, National


Manuae Enua Conservation Trust  sets out its goals in policy document
Manuae Enua Conservation Trust wants to stamp out the illegal taking of pa’ua (giant clam). Photo: Georgia Langdon/23020621

Employing rangers, stamping out the illegal taking of pa’ua and establishing eco-tourism are top of the priority list for the Manuae Enua Conservation Trust.

The trust, which was formalised in October last year, has just released its action plan for the coming years.

The Trust’s policy document, released on Monday, says it is required to sustainably manage the atoll according to the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s official definition of a “National Park”.

The report also lays out a list of 23 actions the Trust must take in order to improve the environment of Manuae, an uninhabited atoll in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, 100 kilometres south-east of Aitutaki, which is part of the Arutanga-Reureu-Nikaupara constituency. It includes building an accommodation for the rangers, who will work in shifts on the islands and help with predator control.

“In the longer term paid professional staff will be essential, such as rangers, builders, boat handlers and an Manuae Enua Conservation Trust manager,” the document says.

“We may also recruit voluntary workers to help cover a variety of roles, including staffing of the visitor and cultural centre, temporary rangers and other staff positions until money can be sourced to cover wages for the employment of professional staff.”

There will also be an emphasis on rat eradication and weed control, along with the restoration of terrestrial, brackish and marine environments.

The document says currently, there is a major problem with “people poaching pa’ua (clams) and coconut crabs illegally”, some have been for sale to restaurants and some for sale to the public, including on Aitutaki, Rarotonga and New Zealand.

“Hence, within our lagoon our native clams have been in rapid decline, especially around the area of the small boat passage on the northern coast,” the document says. 

“We plan to establish zoning of the lagoon, which will include a sustainable harvesting area for clams, plus some dedicated (no-take) marine reserve areas.

“Our local bird, insect, lizard, and plant populations have been heavily reduced, often due to the destruction of their natural habitats, but also because of the introduction of invasive species such as weeds and rats.”

Manuae Trust chairman Teuira Ka said the first stage of the project had been getting all the registration details correct, and sorting out the website.

“Now we’ve done that, we can apply for various grants, and push forward with our programmes,” Ka said.

“It’s all part of a five-year plan. We want to protect the environment, and also enhance it.”

Ka said there was a lot of consideration put into the Cook Islands Māori translation of the policy document.

“I have a background as an interpreter for Parliament, so I thought this was something we need to do to highlight the cultural importance of the project,” he said.

Cook Islands News understands the Trust is speaking to about a dozen or so various funding partners.

The policy document also highlights the importance of eco-tourism as a means to increase funding for Manuae.

“To raise awareness, we ultimately intend to set up a Manuae visitor centre and cultural/natural history display on Aitutaki,” the document says. 

“This will display environmental information about Manuae and its history, plus, will include information on traditional medicines, carvings, costumes, weapons, and dancing. The centre will educate tourists and locals about our fragile environment and will also support local businesses who maintain environmentally sensitive operations.”

Proprietors of Manuae Incorporated (PMI) was established by court order in 1983. The committee members are elected by the landowners of Manuae Atoll on a regular basis.

In October 2022, the PMI established the not-for-profit Manuae Enua Conservation Trust (MECT) to represent the landowners’ interests in managing the island of Manuae for conservation action and sustainable development.

The island is fringed by a steep-sided coral reef and is only accessible by small (outboard-powered) boats in favourable weather conditions.