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Letter: Loss of sand and Motu Toa

Monday 31 July 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


Letter: Loss of sand and Motu Toa

Dear Editor, With regards to Des Eggelton’s response to the Te Ipukarea Society article last Saturday (22 July 2023), “We can’t go back but we can look back and learn”, we appreciate his first-hand knowledge in correcting the incorrect statement that sand for the airport had come from Muri.

Regarding his other point that the loss of sand is a result of natural processes, I believe the sand loss is more likely a “natural” response to man made coastal development along Muri that has occurred over the past 50 years. The movement of sand along the beach is part of the natural sediment budget. However, the sediment budget has been knocked out of equilibrium by the construction of seawalls to protect developments along the coast, along with rising sea level. As a result, we have ended up with our wide sandy beaches receding to the thin strip of sand we have today. Regards,Kelvin Passfield , Te Ipukarea Society.


One of the things that caught my eye in Des Eggelton’s response to June Hosking, Cook Islands News, July 24, 2023, was not so much the issue of sand being removed from Muri, but rather that sand was taken from the area more or less where Toa Petroleum is located today… indeed where Motu Toa used to be situated. Des seems to suggest that the Motu disappeared about the time of, and as a result of, sand being removed for airport construction, which means probably 1970/73.  

James Siers, apparently a well-known Pacific author of that period, published a book called, “Rarotonga,”, (copyright 1977), which includes many interesting photos, including one of Motu Toa, and the caption reads “an islet which disappeared after the 1967 hurricane, is now back again just off the airport”. Certainly, the Motu was back by the late 1970s early 1980s, as we used to camp on it. So it took perhaps some 10 years for it to return … the Motu was therefore in place for perhaps 10 + years, before being demolished by Hurricane Val in 1991.

I personally took photos of the (new) Motu disappearing during Hurricane Val, 1991. Val was particularly wild and destructive on the northern and western sides of Rarotonga. The main road by the Met Office was completely taken out, with a massive hole gouged out, Edgewater Resort had huge damage to its pool area, as well as some of its front units – fascinating photos to look at today. We used to live in the house that is now Vaiana’s, so are very familiar with the lagoon and beach area, including Motu Toa, on which we used to camp regularly. 

Curiously, the Motu has not been seen since that time, some 32 years, so tidal movement, and perhaps other influences, have prevented it from returning. - Andy Olah