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MOU on turtle tours

Friday 21 April 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Environment, National, Travel

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MOU on turtle tours
Green sea turtles. 18100501

Two turtle tour operators have declined to sign an ongoing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.

The news come after months of discussion with marine tourism operators, and concerns about the overcrowding in the Avaavaroa passage.

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive Karla Eggelton said it met with Turtle Tour Operators last week (Friday, April 14) and those who attended represented the majority of operators. 

“At this meeting, those present re-signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Corporation agreeing to operate to specified standards and guidelines,” Eggelton said.

These operators were Ariki Adventures, Rarotonga Turtle Tours, Go Local, and Ocean Toa, said Eggelton.

“Turtle Tours with Charlotte Piho was present via Zoom, but did not agree to sign,” she said.

“Invited to the meeting but absent was Snorkel Cook Islands, and the last communication with Snorkel Cook Islands was they did not agree to sign.”

Both Snorkel Cook Islands and Charlotte Piho declined to comment on the matter.

Other operators including Kitesup operating in Rutaki passage agree in principle to sign and Crown Beach Resort operating through Oswell Tunupopo have also agreed in principle to sign.

The MOU guidelines include: tours in the Avaavaroa Passage are restricted to operate on weekdays only (Monday to Friday), all guides must have a current Cook Islands Bronze Medallion Certificate, correct water safety and lifesaving equipment available at all times, a maximum of four visitors per certified guide in all passages on Rarotonga and deep lagoon waters at all times, tours in the Avaavaroa Passage are restricted to operate only during low tide; and up to two hours either side of low tide, and all guides must have a current First Aid Certificate.

Eggelton said: “Cook Islands Tourism encourages all business that are conducting guided turtle tours in any passage or lagoons in the Cook Islands please make themselves known to us, so we can work to ensure they are familiar with the standards.”

“At this meeting it was also agreed that a stronger approach to visitor and public safety was required. With the support of these operators Cook Islands Tourism will now work to preparing a policy document to inform on next steps to regulate, monitor and improve safety measures for visitors and guides while in the passages.”

Eggelton said this was “a welcome next step, with our primary focus being public safety while in our lagoons”. 

She said more information will be shared in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the National Environment Service (NES) is also set to release regulations on the Designation of Protected Species in marine wildlife, which will include a register of protected species by law. 

On top of this, the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) will soon complete work for regulations on guidelines of interacting with whales and turtles. NES director Halatoa Fua said his organisation’s main concern was biodiversity conservation.