Rarotonga Environment Authority greenlight NES to proceed with development of a management plan to address unsustainable turtle tour activities

Today, the Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA) met to review key matters of the National Environment Service requiring approval. Included on the agenda was their approval for NES to proceed with developing an environmental management plan for key areas of concern within Rarotonga that are being impacted by unsustainable tourism operations.
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Today, the Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA) met to review key matters of the National Environment Service requiring approval. Included on the agenda was their approval for NES to proceed with developing an environmental management plan for key areas of concern within Rarotonga that are being impacted by unsustainable tourism operations. This was approved by unanimous decision, providing NES with the greenlight to proceed with this important work.

The REA is mandated by the Environment Act 2003 under Part 2, and as per S.37, it must request NES to prepare environment management plans for a variety of purposes, including protection, conservation and management of wildlife including protected species and the habitat of such wildlife and species, among other reasons.

Following ongoing concerns from various stakeholders, multi-government agency meetings have been held between NES, Cook Islands Tourism (CIT) and Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) to identify options to address the mounting concerns with the way turtle tours in the southern Rarotonga passages, particularly Avaavarua, are being conducted. Concerns vary from disturbance to the endangered turtles present and coral destruction, to safety and the Cook Islands reputation as a responsible and sustainable tourism destination.

Whilst CIT have been leading engagement with the industry and have implemented a variety of measures such as a Memorandum of Understanding with operators and visitor messaging to encourage responsible choices, these voluntary measures have been selectively uptaken by the industry and have not managed to address the situation sufficiently. It was therefore agreed that a more comprehensive approach was required.

NES sought the support of its Project ENUA (Enhancing Nature’s Unique Areas), which aims to reduce and mitigate negative environmental impacts of the key development sectors (agriculture, infrastructure, tourism), which are the main national drivers of biodiversity and habitat degradation (State of Environment Report, 2018). This request was supported by the project’s implementing partner United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and endorsed by it’s project steering committee, allowing it to proceed to REA.

With the REA approval received, NES are now advertising for a suitably qualified and experienced consultant to develop an environmental management plan with a focus on sea turtle conservation for key areas of concern within Rarotonga. The overarching aim of the Rarotonga Passage Environment management plan is to ensure environmental conservation in areas that are currently at risk of environmental degradation.

The consultant will assist the NES Project ENUA team and its partners to:

  1. Complete stakeholder mapping & consultations
  2. Complete desktop assessments and briefing note/summary report
  3. Complete a draft management plan for review & input
  4. Complete a final plan and provide recommendations

Additional information can be found on the NES website here.

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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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