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Specific Areas of Concern - Cook Islands National Environment Service
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Specific Areas of Concern

Specific Areas of Concern

• Foreshore and Cook Islands waters
• Inland waters
• Sloping Land
• Wetlands

In most cases if a project application is located in these areas, an Engineering Report is usually required, otherwise a covering letter with survey maps and site plans are requested. In certain cases, or where there is any doubt about the environmental safety of the project, an Environmental Impact Assessment Report is sought.

Specific Areas of Concern under the Environment Act 2003

Foreshore and Cook Islands waters

Foreshore is the area between the mean high water mark on the beach and 30 metres inland from there. This area is of utmost importance for Cook Islanders, with its images of unspoilt, clean, white sandy beaches and spectacular coastal scenery. With approximately 67% of the national GDP dependent on tourism, we Cook Islanders need to take care of this valuable asset to prolong the life of tourism in the Cook Islands aswell as our own property.

Over the years, the removal of sand and aggregate material, construction of buildings and other structures, and poor land use practices on the foreshore all take their toll on this fragile ecosystem. The removal of sand and aggregate has been a particular environmental concern, with an enormous volume being removed on Rarotonga in the 1950’s, which resulted in the degradation of the beach area, creating public pressure for control of this practice.

Building near beaches has resulted in the construction of protection walls which only exacerbate the problem of coastal erosion.  Those building walls to protect their beach properties increase beach scouring effects during high waves and cause erosion of neighbouring properties who in turn construct forms of coastal protection and so on and so on.  During high wave periods, incoming waves make contact with the sudden vertical protection wall  and that power of the wave is reflected or deflected off the wall which acts to dig out sand in front of the wall.  Therefore, if you are planning on building at the coast, build as far away from the beach as possible.  Doing so will save you money and stress in later years.

Reference to the Legislation [Section 50 of the Environment Act 2003]:

“Every person commits an offence who, without the prior consent in writing of the permitting authority or contrary to any provision of a management plan, –

a. removes any silt, sand, cobble, gravel, boulder, coral or any tree from the foreshore or Cook Islands waters; or
b. carries out any excavation, dredging, clearing, paving, grading, ploughing, removal of trees or vegetation, or other activity within the foreshore or Cook Islands waters which may result in the alteration of the natural configuration of the foreshore; or
c. places any fill or material of any type within the foreshore or Cook Islands waters; or
d. carries out the construction or erection of any wall or structure within the foreshore or Cook Islands waters.”

Inland waters

Inland waters are waters and banks of any stream, river, or lake together with the bed (whether dry or not) of any stream, river or lake (“bank” shall include all that area of land extending away from the stream, river, or lake and measured at right angles to a distance of 5 metres from the bank of that stream, river and lake).

This area of concern needs to be carefully considered as it is connected to the marine environment and can also be a habitat for freshwater organisms.  Any activity that may cause pollution or sedimentation of inland waters will cause problems downstream.  Such problems can be seen during periods of heavy rain when coastal waters are filled with mud as we see in the Avarua harbour, and in the periodic algae blooms seen especially in the Muri lagoon.  These algae blooms are indicators for high levels of nutrients that come from nitrates and phosphates found in fertilizers.




Sloping Land

Sloping land are those areas of land having a natural gradient in excess of 1:10. With the value of flat and accessible lands becoming high, the local population has looked at sloping lands as an area to build their homes. This has resulted in the increase in the number of property development on sloping lands.

Excavation, erecting and building of any structure on such land can only be carried out with the consent of the permitting authority. This is to prevent soil being washed away by rainwater or blown away by wind and to prevent any further damage to the property or neighbouring property.  If building on a slope, consider building on stilts to limit the area needed to excavate.  Doing so can save erosion problems and further expenditure on retaining walls.  Also consider leaving in some large trees instead of cutting down every single tree on your section. Trees take decades to grow, provide shade and cooler air and also help stabilise soils.

The Environment Act 2003 clearly states that it is an offence to carry out any activity on any land having a natural gradient in excess of 1:10 without the prior consent of the Permitting Authority.

Reference to the Legislation [Section 57 of the Environment Act 2003]:

“No person may –

a. undertake any excavation of any kind on any land having a natural gradient in excess of 1:10; or
b. erect or alter any building or structure on such land, except with the written consent of the permitting authority.”


Wetlands are areas of marsh, swamps that permanently or seasonally contain water. Your taro patch is a wetland! Wetlands are very important as they retain water like a giant sponge, slowing flowing water as it passes through preventing floods. Equally important, they are also natural water filters cleaning up contaminated water from fertilisers and other pollutants.  This is quite fundamental in Rarotonga where development has been accellerating over the last 10 years.

This year, 2011 is the Year of Wetlands.  Major awareness concerning the importance of wetlands will be distributed throughout the community and the focus of this years Lagoon Day is Wetlands.  Through all this campaigning it is hoped that the protection of wetlands will become a reality.  Click here to go to the Education and Awareness divisions section on Wetlands.

Infrastructure development has  been increasing overland flow and runoff, which is water moving over the surface of the land to the lagoon.  The application of fertilisers has resulted in the leaching of nitrates and phosphates into lagoon waters.  Septic effluent from sewage tanks are also entering our lagoons as seen by large amounts of bacteria counts in our lagoons.  Wetlands are indespensible when it comes to effectively ‘cleaning’ water that is contaminated by soil, fertilisers and septic effluent.

Unfortunately, many wetlands are being filled in despite environmental awareness, to make way for buildings.  If you are consideing filling in a taro patch or other form of wetland, please consider the value of it, which is priceless.  It is not only a cleaning and storage system it is also a food production site and a habitat for flora and fauna.  If all of them are filled in, there will be no more natural taro patches.  Building on stilts over a wetland or partial fill should even be considered.  A well kept taro patch for a yard provides beautiful scenery as well as food right outside your door.  Also reducing the amount of mowing needed!  Just take a look at Sea Change plantation villas in Titikaveka to see how they have built amongst a wetland.

Reference to the Legislation [Section 58 of the Environment Act 2003]:

“No excavation, dredging, clearing, paving, grading, ploughing, dumping, reclamation, removal of trees or other activity of any kind which may alter the natural configuration of the wetlands shall be undertaken on any wetlands, nor shall any building or structure be erected or altered on any wetlands, without the written consent of the permitting authority.”