Protecting and managing wildlife of Suwarrow

Tuesday 26 January 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in National, Outer Islands


Protecting and managing wildlife of Suwarrow
The Northern Group atoll of Suwarrow, among the most isolated islands in the Cook Islands. 21012527

The isolated atoll of Suwarrow and a life of peaceful solitude awaits two adventurous souls who are expected to travel to the remote atoll today.

Suwarrow Park Ranger Harry Papa’i and an officer from the National Environment Service have been busy preparing for the voyage to Suwarrow, which is expected to take roughly several days by barge.

Papa’i is expected to spend eight months on the island, while the officer will be there for roughly two-three weeks.

Suwarrow is located approximately 800 kilometres northwest of Rarotonga, and has a large lagoon measuring roughly 10 kilometres across.

Having spent considerable time there over the years as park ranger and caretaker, Papa’i will be travelling to an atoll he knows well.

“They are there to protect and manage the environment and wildlife of Suwarrow,” said manager Elizabeth Munro with the National Environment Service.

As part of their duties, the two will be conducting baseline flora and fauna surveys, recording the various types of vegetation on the island, and setting up rat baits to check for the presence of the invasive rodents that have been the focus of an ongoing eradication program.

As park ranger, Papa’i will also be on the lookout for any sailing vessels seeking to visit the island but will be barred due to Covid-19 border restrictions.

Park Ranger Harry Papa'i, with the automated external defibrillator that will be stationed on Suwarrow. PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT SERVICE/21012524

As the Cook Islands remains in cyclone season, Munro said discussions have been held with Maritime Police and plans are in place for the officers in case of any emergency.

To stay connected, Papa’i and the NES officer will be equipped with a high-frequency radio for daily communication, as well as a satellite phone to contact family members and in case of an emergency.

They have procured their own food supplies, but will also have access to the bounty of the sea and some produce from the land.

In addition to an ample supply of coconut and hopefully some pawpaw, the two will have rainwater to drink and should be able to get a few feeds from a breadfruit (kuru) tree, planted by pearl farmer and businessman Kora Kora and his brother back in the late 1980s.

The two spent some time on the atoll when their father took up the park ranger post for the newly created Suwarrow National Park and brought his family along for the adventure.

“I’m told the Kuru tree is growing big and producing heaps of fruit,” he said.

Cargo ready for loading onto barge MV Taunga Nui. 21012526

As caretakers of the island, Kora said park rangers hold a broad list of responsibilities, from enforcing immigration laws to environmental stewardship.

“You have to know our bylaws for the national parks, the duties that require you as a ranger to keep the place clean, and to keep records of any yachties that may try to visit,” he said.

“If you have a bush knife and lighter, you’ll be alright.”

While in Suwarrow, the two will also be carrying out renovations to a shelter and setting up an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), to be used in the event of an emergency.