Turtle Tour Operator MOU Worshop

Cook Islands Tourism
It was agreed that the MOU will be reviewed every 3-4 months to ensure that it remains relevant.

On October 13, Cook Islands Tourism hosted a workshop with turtle tour operators to review and update the Turtle Tour Operator Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU serves as an interim measure given the lack of regulation, and is a voluntary agreement that operators sign in good faith to abide by the best practices outlined within it. Given the number of new operators, it was agreed that the MOU will be reviewed every 3-4 months to ensure that it remains relevant.

Majority of turtle operators were present including invited representatives from the National Environment Service ( NES ), Ministry of Marine Resources ( MMR ), Ministry of Transport - Maritime ( MOT ), and Cook Islands Internal Affairs ( INTAFF ) to help inform and guide the sessions.

The workshop was very productive, with operators and invited agencies actively participating in giving their opinions and direction on different points of discussion. The points of discussion included suitable conditions to operate in, environmental education, safety, customer ratios, use of boats, and days of operation (to name a few).

NES made it clear that the operators have a duty of care to ensure how they interact with the environment is considered in their everyday operations.

MMR provided their perspective and explained that they will make a final decision on how they will work in their space after scientific evidence and capacity studies are completed. MMR also confirmed that capped numbers will be part of the new legislation in future, to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

MOT spoke about maritime safety especially with the use of marine vessels in the area. They confirmed that regulation already exists and that operators must engage with their maritime office to ensure that they are operating their vessels legally and correctly.

INTAFF confirmed the support they can provide for businesses in the Cook Islands through labour and consumer services (Fair Trading and Consumer protection).

Overall, the workshop was a great dialogue that will help to ensure that the turtle tour industry in the Cook Islands is sustainable and operated in a responsible manner.

Next steps:

Cook Islands Tourism will draft the revised MOU that all operators will have an opportunity to confirm they are happy with before formally signing.