Celebrating Biodiversity Day 2024 in the Cook Islands

The National Environment Service (NES), in partnership with landowners and invited guests, celebrated the official launch of Ngai Taporoporo o Takitumu, Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA), as an Other Effective area-based Conservation Measure (OECM).

Launching Takitumu Conservation Area as first ever Other Effective area-based Conservation Measure in the Pacific

History was made by the Cook Islands on International Biodiversity Day, 22 May 2024, with the theme to “Be Part of the Plan” to reverse biodiversity loss and put nature on a path to recovery.

The National Environment Service (NES), in partnership with landowners and invited guests, celebrated the official launch of Ngai Taporoporo o Takitumu, Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA), as an Other Effective area-based Conservation Measure (OECM).

The TCA spans 155 hectares of forested area within Vaka Takitumu, on the southeastern side of Rarotonga on land sections Tōtoko’itu-ki-Uta, Arakuo, and Turangaare. Protected by three landowning families (Ngāti Kainuku, Ngāti Karika and Ngāti Manavaroa) in 1996 mainly to protect the small endemic Kākerōri bird (Rarotonga flycatcher, Pomarea dimidiata) found nowhere else in the world, and conserve many other unique plant and animal species in the area. An annual programme of rat control, using poison in bait stations, has run for over 30 years, and this has led to the Kakerōri population in and around the TCA increasing from critically endangered at 29 birds in 1989, to at least 618 birds as of 2023. The overall objective of the TCA is to conserve plants and animals and their surrounding environment for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations of the Cook Islands.

Celebrations on Biodiversity Day to commemorate this national milestone of our first OECM site, included a visit to the TCA to unveil and bless new TCA signboards at the main entrance in Arakuo, Titikaveka, and also in Avana, Ngatangiia, which sits on the border of the TCA boundaries. The signboards were unveiled by representatives of the three landowning families which showcased important information on the species found and conserved in the area including a pe’e (traditional chant) depicting species found in the area, a map outlining the boundaries, and information on the establishment and purpose of the TCA in both Cook Islands Maori and English.

Following the unveiling and blessing of the new TCA signs, an official ceremony was held at the Avana Hall, to launch the TCA as an OECM. This included speeches from the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Environment, Hon. Albert Nicholas, who was proud of this momentous event, being a landowner of TCA himself and honouring his ancestors’ decision to continue safeguarding the land as the Takitumu Conservation Area.

The launch also included speeches from the Director of NES, Mr. Halatoa Fua, Conservation Manager at the TCA, Kamoe Mataiapo Ian Karika, and a pre-recorded message from Mr. Sefanaia Nawadra, Director General of Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). Ms. Terā-‘itirere-ki-Avaiki Rongo, also known as Māmā Rā, moved the audience with her winning speech from the Maori speech competition Year 7 2024 category, whose theme was on ‘Our Environment’.

A presentation of a certificate of recognition from SPREP, and a letter of recognition and registration as an OECM from UNEP-WCMC, was then presented to representatives of the three Ngati by NES Biodiversity Coordinator, Jessie Tepora Nicholson.

Elizabeth Munro, NES Environmental Stewardship Manager, noted “The last 15 months has been a productive and learning journey, particularly working with the 3 landowning tribes of the TCA. The knowledge shared by the landowners on the flora and fauna of TCA as well as historical sites, are information not recorded and through this work we were able to capture these information for future generations. We have started the plan, we all will maintain the TCA plan and continue with the conservation plan for the TCA for our children to follow”.

CONGRATULATIONS TCA, on becoming the first OECM for the Cook Islands and the Pacific!

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The National Environment Service is established to protect, conserve and ensure the Cook Islands environment is managed sustainably. The agency is headed by a Director with delegated powers to carry out the functions of the Environment Act 2003.

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