The staff of Aitutaki Marine Research Centre in Aitutaki. 21041410
On the island of Aitutaki, efforts are underway to reverse the major declines in important marine resources caused by a combination of climate-driven and human-derived stressors.
Livelihoods in the outer islands are closely
tied to the natural environment and fisheries resources are the most important
source of food security and income. Coral reefs provide critical habitat for many
marine organisms and recent research indicates that coral cover in Aitutaki is
The Aitutaki Marine Research Centre (AMRC) was
opened in 1991, with financial aid from Australia’s AusAid programme, following
a request from the Aitutaki Island Council for Ministry of Marine Resource’s
(MMR) help in restoring clam stocks in the lagoon. At that time the main function of the AMRC,
or “hatchery” as it has become known, was clam aquaculture.
Three species from Palau and Australia were
introduced, Tridacna gigas, Tridacna derasa, and Hippopus hippopus. Besides
these introduced species, the hatchery has also been successful in reproducing
Cook Islands’ native species, Tridacna maxima.
The clams raised have either been placed in
the lagoon to begin spawning naturally, or have been sold to commercial
aquarium markets as a way of funding the programme. Tourism operators frequent
these popular lagoon areas. The clams are a protected species under Ra’ui,
which is the Maori term for protection or stewardship.
Over the years the role of the hatchery has
increased as scope of MMR’s work in the Cook Islands has expanded. This now
ranges from turtle rescue to enforcement and compliance of marine resource
regulations and from water quality monitoring to provision of an educational
and visitor resource centre.
Since 2019, the European Union funded Global
Climate Change Alliance Plus - Scaling up Pacific Adaptation (GCCA+ SUPA)
project is working closely with communities and the Cook Islands government to
adopt a people-centred approach to strengthen data collection, reporting and
adaptive management within the marine sector and improve the understanding of
climate-related issues and the impacts on the marine environment. Over the next
two years the technical capacity and infrastructure of the AMRC will be
upgraded in order to:
Increase capacity for climate focussed monitoring, research and adaptive management of marine systems
Expand marine monitoring programmes
Increase awareness and education and enhance the community outreach roles of the AMRC
Reduce reliance on Rarotonga for personnel and resources
Planned activities include new aquaculture
programmes such as the propagation of heat tolerant corals, the creation of a
lagoonarium to increase education and awareness among both the local and
tourist communities and the installation of classrooms at the hatchery to
support capacity development of fisheries officers and research students. The
development of technical capacity and long-term integration of activities will
be essential to the sustainability of the AMRC and its programmes beyond the
life of this project.
The GCCA+ SUPA project is about scaling up
climate change adaptation measures in specific sectors supported by knowledge
management and capacity building. The 4.5 year project (2019-2023) is funded
with € 14.89 million ($24.94 mllion) from the European Union (EU) and
implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC) in partnership with the Secretariat
of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and The University of the
South Pacific (USP), in collaboration with the governments and peoples of Cook
Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall
Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Tuvalu.