Visitors take part in the acclaimed Cook Islands Turtle Tour. Photo: Charlotte Piho Photography/22061506
Several months after it was first mooted, turtle tour operators are still waiting for clear mandated guidelines for their operations.
Cook Islands News
has attempted to get in touch with Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) secretary
Pamela Maru about progress on the rules, but has so far not received a
Tourism Corporation chief executive Karla Eggelton said it was working with MMR
and the National Environment Service (NES) to help develop a safety regime for
the tours that satisfied everyone from an environment and commercial
“In terms of the
turtle passage, we have no regulatory mandate, but we’re obviously concerned
about visitor safety, particularly as turtle tours become increasingly
popular,” Eggelton said.
“MMR and the NES’s
concern is more focused on the ecosystems and protection of the environment.”
Eggelton said: “We
haven’t met yet with Turtle Tour Operators, but we have reached out to every
operator and now working on an agreed date to meet as soon as possible”.
“In the meantime,
we are looking to review our Memorandum of Understanding and applying some
monitoring and compliance exercises with the support of Turtle Tour Operators
to identify opportunities to strengthen safety and success of turtle tours,”
operations manager Matthew Robinson said it had met with Cook Islands Tourism,
but was still waiting for some clear rules and regulations.
“We’re very keen
to get something specific because the environment has become too crowded,”
awareness now of the need for safety and protection of the environment.”
Jane Archer, who
worked for Charlotte Piho Photography, wished all turtle tour operators the
best, but said “there has to be rules, and they have to be enforced”.
isn’t done soon, then someone could drown,” Archer said.
“All guides should
need to be qualified to at least (Australian Surf Life Safety) Bronze Medallion
standard. We know some operators are getting there, but it needs to be the
standard for everyone.”
Archer said the
rules needed to be properly enforced.
“That means there
needs to be people monitoring the tours, particularly in regards to how many
people are going out there in the water, and how many guides there are
assisting them,” she said.
Back in July, Maru
told Cook Islands News: “We are looking to develop management tools, which may
include regulations. At minimum best practice guidelines are a good way to
ensure everyone in the sector are advised on what practices should be
At the time, MMR
was aiming to have a draft policy available by December.
In the interim,
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and most of the marine tourism operators in
Rarotonga have agreed to a voluntary regime in order to ensure people’s safety.
include 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
restricted to operate only during low tide; and up to two hours either side of
low tide (only if it is deemed safe to do so), automated external
defibrillators (AED) must be available at all times, and rescue tubes must be
available at all times for each certified guide.