UPDATE ON PROTECTION OF VULNERABLE AREAS & SPECIES
Senior representatives from National Environment Service (NES), Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), and Cook Islands Tourism Corporation (CIT) met in Avarua yesterday in recognition of the need to ensure a timely, coordinated and collaborative approach towards the protection of vulnerable areas and species in the Cook Islands.
With a need to balance timely and practical action with the equal importance of a robust strategic approach, the meeting comes on the back of recent concerning events involving the interaction of tourist operators and vulnerable marine species, most notably Sea Turtles and Whales.
“All three agencies are on the same team when it comes to the importance and need for protection of our precious natural environment and the beautiful creatures within it”, says Cook Islands Tourism Corporation CEO, Karla Eggelton.
“Given recent events, and knowing that several interlinked environmental management frameworks are currently being developed, it was timely to check that we are working collaboratively in encouraging environmentally responsible tourism practices and policies as quickly and efficiently as possible”.
From the meeting, the three parties agreed in principle that an upcoming MMR commissioned project will create an effective Environmental Management Plan, which will in turn enable formal conservation and management measures to be put in place.
“This work will initially take the form of a formal risk assessment that will be shared with key stakeholders to ground truth before finalisation”, says Ministry of Marine Resources HOM, Pamela Maru. “This will inform the management policy that responds to key risk areas and provides guidance on management needs across the Cook Islands. This will include specific management measures and implementation mechanisms such as regulations, guidelines, training and outreach and awareness”.
The National Environment Service contributed to the outputs of the meeting, with Director Halatoa Fua commenting; ‘The completion of the Environmental Management Plan will be the key output that NES will put through for approval by the Island Environment Authority. There is existing mandate under the Environment Act 2003; Section 55 on Protected Species, Section 37 on Management Plans and Section 40 on enforcement measures. NES will work together with the key agencies and stakeholders to complete this work as a response to the current issues faced by the public.
In addition to these more formal protective measures, the three agencies are also taking other immediate steps to encourage environmentally responsible practices from turtle and whale tour operators. A meeting with turtle-tour operators is scheduled for Tuesday 26th September to discuss a potential refresh of the existing MOU, which covers environmentally responsible practices.
CIT are also facilitating an open workshop/discussion for those people interacting with Whales to encourage open dialogue and sharing of expert knowledge/best-practice. In addition, new informational signage is due to be installed at both the Avaavaroa and Papua passages early next week, and plans are in place to increase general awareness and education of both visitors and locals through the various communication channels available to the group.