For thousands of years, the people who settled these islands lived in harmony with the world around them.
They studied stars and swells to find their way across oceans. The moon told them when to plant and when to give the land a rest. They knew when and where to rā‘ui the lagoon so fish could breed.
Total dependence on the environment meant listening to what the environment communicated. It meant always thinking about the future and having enough for days to come. It meant feeling gratitude for the land and sea that give life. There are people in the Cook Islands, and especially in the outer islands, who still pay attention. Others among us have become so disconnected that we don’t understand how much our impact matters.
We know that the pace of so-called progress is destroying the planet. According to a report backed by 1360 scientists from 95 countries, humans have put too much pressure on two-thirds of the world’s resources. Ninety per cent of fish stocks have been exploited beyond sustainable limits. The seas are warming up and fuelling bigger storms. Scientists expect all corals to be dead by 2050. Modern society is not treating its resources the way the people of these islands once did.
Nature is balanced and is always trying to be balanced. In nature, systems are circular. Plant and animal waste can break down into useful nutrients for other living things. Water from the oceans becomes vapour, then clouds, then rain, and then it returns to the oceans. Chemicals essential for life such as oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen are circulated through natural systems. Our modern system is not a circle but a line, and it ends when we run out of resources.
Today the scientists are telling us what the people of this place have always known: If we don’t look after our environment, it won’t look after us. In this section we’ve combined the wisdom of the past and the technologies of today to show you how you can live in harmony with the world around you.
Akama’ara ‘ia ‘āpopo.
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.” —Job 12:7-10
The climate is changing and it’s humanity’s fault. Most scientists agree that the world is getting warmer (and drier, and wetter, and colder, and stormier). Most also agree that modern society created, and continues to create, the problem.
When we travel, build cities, cut down trees, and produce food, we use energy. For most of modern history the energy has come from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, gas, and diesel, a process which releases greenhouse gases into the air. They’re called greenhouse gases because they behave like a huge greenhouse, trapping heat. In the simplest terms, we now have too much trapped heat.
Last year was the hottest year on record. Ice caps are melting. Seas are getting warmer and cyclones are getting more intense. Droughts are getting longer. Global warming isn’t just about warming; it’s about the climate becoming less predictable and extreme weather events becoming more extreme.
How does climate change impact the Cook Islands?
With funding provided through Climate Change Cook Islands, Dr. Teina Rongo and Celine Dyer were able to conduct surveys in the pa enua to better understand changes in weather patterns. People they interviewed reported:
Shorter low tides (which means less time for fishing);
Rougher seas and stronger currents (which means less new recruits of fish, and fishing is more expensive because you need a powered boat);
Buildup of sediment/sand in lagoons (and shallower lagoons warm up faster);
Death of corals (even off Manuae, where no humans live!);
New problems with pearl oysters;
Saltwater creeping into taro patches;
Trees fruiting in the off-season;
Shifts in rainfall patterns (some islands experiencing more drought, others more rain); and
Increasingly intense cyclones.
What’s Climate Change Cook Islands doing about it?
Dr. Rongo says that in order to know how to deal with changing weather, we need to pay attention. We need to understand natural rhythms so we can adapt to them.
“Our biggest focus is to reconnect our people back to the land because we’ve lost that connection,” he says. “The new generation has lost the connection to the environment and so it’s hard for them to understand some of these issues. Our children today, they’re not as connected to agriculture. We’ve been talking about reintroducing these activities into the schools. We used to do that, we used to have our own gardens so we started to appreciate the environment. Now our kids are less connected and you can imagine what’s going to happen in the future, when they become leaders, in terms of their decisions. They won’t be environmentally friendly because they don’t have that same appreciation.”
With the goal of reconnecting younger generations to the land, the team at Climate Change Cook Islands has, among other initiatives:
Reintroduced traditional fishing practices in the pa enua;
Encouraged fish feeding (using coconut to feed koperu and ature) on Mangaia;
Provided fencing for vegetable gardens and training on Nassau;
Encouraged piere production on Mitiaro (the dried banana lasts up to 30 years!);
Encouraged planting and worm farming on Palmerston;
Provided Manihiki and Pukapuka with hydroponics equipment to grow tomatoes and lettuce;
Built a nursery on Tongareva;
Taught pa enua communities how to bottle fish;
Supported Rangi Mitaera-Johnson in her effort to teach every island community in the Cooks about eating local. (For more, see page 25).
What can you do?
If you’re disconnected from the land, reconnect.
Pay attention to cyclone warnings. Make sure you’re prepared.
Tap into sources of energy you don’t have to burn, like energy created by the sun, wind, or waves.
Eat less meat and dairy. The cattle industry produces enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and uses more water than any other industry. (For more about the connection between consuming factory-farmed animal products and climate change, see page 17).
Buy local. Most industrial farms burn fossil fuels to produce chemical fertilisers; to pump, treat, and move huge amounts of water for animals and irrigating crops; and to process and package their foods. By supporting local food production, you are contributing to the solution.
Waste is something that is left over, no longer used or wanted, that must be disposed of in some way. Waste can be anything — food, garden rubbish, packaging and containers, clothing, furniture and appliances, anything. Waste also comes from our toilets, washing machines, showers, and sinks.
We have become a “throwaway” society and people do not necessarily realise where “away” is. “Away” might be the landfill, where rubbish is piled up and mixed; eventually it leaks toxic gases and liquids, polluting the waterways and the air. Landfills also become full and overflow and then new land is sought in order to dump more rubbish. Rarotonga’s current landfill was designed to be a solution until 2020. The outer islands have no landfills.
“Away” might also be waste that is not disposed of properly — left at the beach after a Sunday picnic, thrown out of the car after a ‘feed’, or driven up a valley and dumped illegally. This can end up polluting land, waterways, and the sea, directly affecting the health of animals, the environment, and us.
People also get rid of unwanted waste by burning it, a common practice here in the Cook Islands. Burning waste, especially plastic but even leaves and hedge clippings, releases harmful chemicals into the air, and adds to the greenhouse gas emissions affecting our climate. Burning plastics is also prohibited under Section 38 of the Public Health Act.
Waste from leaking septic tanks ends up in waterways, groundwater, and eventually the sea, carrying disease-causing bacteria which make animals and humans sick. Chemicals from household cleaning products or products used for personal hygiene end up in wastewater, which eventually upsets the natural chemical balance of ecosystems — interacting systems of living and non-living things — ultimately leading to breakdown and sometimes irreversible damage. We need not look far for an example of this; we need only to look at Muri lagoon.
Rethinking our current methods of waste disposal is the first step we need to take. Just because the item is no longer wanted, it does not mean that it is waste, that it is no longer useful or that there is not a better way to deal with the item. This is not so much a waste management crisis, but a crisis in individual responsibility. People need to accept responsibility for their own waste.
There are three basic principles to waste management, or “The Three R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The principle underlying them is changing the way we think about waste.
Angelie Tiare Robinson
Grow your own food.
Take your own plate to the market.
Buy in bulk to reduce the amount of wrappers you’re purchasing
Stop using plastic straws.
Make your own:
Toothpaste — Mix 5 tbsp coconut oil + 5 tbsp baking soda (use mint to flavour)
Deodorant — Mix 1/4 cup cornstarch + 1/4 cup baking soda + 2 tbsp coconut oil
Drain cleaner — Mix 1/2 cup salt + 4 litres water + heat. For a stronger solution, pour ½ cup baking soda down the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar.
Oven cleaner — Wet surfaces, then spread paste of 3/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup salt, and ¼ cup water over surfaces. Let sit overnight and remove with spatula in the morning.
Rust remover — Sprinkle salt, then squeeze lime over rust. Leave mixture on for 3 hours.
Toilet cleaner — Mix 1/4 cup baking soda + 1 cup vinegar, pour into toilet and let sit. Scrub with brush and rinse.
Window cleaner — Mix 2 tsp of white vinegar + 1 litre warm water. Use cloth to clean.
Tile cleaner — Rub in baking soda with damp sponge and rinse with water. For tougher stains, wipe surfaces with a tiny bit of vinegar first.
Though our current waste issues may seem daunting, there are practices that can be carried out by everyone and anyone in order to relieve some of our islands’ stresses. A couple of solutions to help combat our waste issues have been implemented by local environmental organisation Te Ipukarea Society, based on Rarotonga.
This has been a busy year for Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) in terms of waste management as we were successful in obtaining funds through the Global Environment Facility to tackle waste in several ways.
Biodegradable container promotion
With polystyrene (styrofoam) containers being used frequently for fast food and takeaways, TIS has begun an awareness raising campaign to promote the use of biodegradable and reusable containers. The Society has been able to source these containers, and also encourage local retailers and wholesalers to make the switch.
Worm farm and compost bin trainings
In support of the Ministry of Education’s Green Schools Policy, the Society has supplied a compost bin to all primary and high schools in the Cook Islands. Worm farms are also being provided to most high schools.
The Society provides training on how to build and set up a worm farm and compost bin. They also teach the correct way to “feed” the system, including what can and cannot be placed in the worm farms and compost bins.
The goal of this project is to promote alternative solutions to dealing with organic waste rather than just burning it or throwing it straight into the bin. Composting and worm farming generate useful things which can be used to help vegetable gardens grow.
Rent a plate
Another solution to container waste was a hygienic washing centre at popular sites. Te Ipukarea Society was able to assist a local school, Te Uki Ou Primary, in establishing a washing centre at the Muri Night Markets. With donations collected for every plate hired out, the school has now created a successful fundraising initiative.
No to burning rubbish
A common practice within the Cook Islands is to burn general rubbish, which commonly includes plastics. In hopes of discouraging this practice, TIS has created short advertising clips for local TV explaining the health hazards involved with burning plastics, along with highlighting the most appropriate ways to deal with and reduce plastic waste.
Waste management practices can be implemented around the globe. Every little bit helps; we can be the change we need!
Alanna Matamaru Smith
The history of the toilet is really a history of how humans have attempted to solve the unavoidable problem of disposing of smelly and dangerous bodily waste.
Early on, our ancestors simply walked a good distance away from where they slept and ate. In the subsequent forty thousand years, a number of solutions, both simple and innovative, were developed. Digging a deep pit and then filling it in when it is nearly full is a neat and easy way of putting the waste out of sight and mind, but bacteria and viruses in the waste seep into the ground and then potentially into rivers, seas, and drinking water. That isn’t a problem if you are the only human for miles, but in crowded cities and on tiny islands, we need to find ways of treating the waste so that the pathogens are killed or removed. The ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, is believed to have died after only 30 days in office after contracting enteric fever from the White House water supply which, at the time, was downstream from a public toilet.
There are also compounds in human waste that bacteria, algae, and other organisms feed off, which can create imbalances in the environment. You don’t need to look far for an example – one contender for the cause of the recent algae bloom in Muri is seepage from waste treatment installations.
Septic tanks are the commonest solution here in the Cook Islands, but they aren’t without their problems. Older septic systems crack and leak; installing a full new system that is compliant with all the Cook Islands’ regulations on human waste disposal is expensive.
Believe it or not, human waste is actually useful stuff and it doesn’t take much to turn it from a nuisance into a resource. It is a concentrated nutrient source for plants if properly treated and managed. Urine is usually sterile and can be used immediately on plants by mixing it with plenty of water first. It is possible to buy or build toilets that divert urine to a separate mixer tank that automatically adds water before it is spread via a hose onto the garden. Or, gents, you can simply pee on your banana trees!
For obvious reasons, faeces can’t be used on the garden immediately, but if you collect them in a chamber with plenty of ventilation and mix in carbon (usually in the form of sawdust), eventually the mixture will decompose, all the pathogens will die off, and you are left with compost that is as good for the garden as anything you can buy commercially. Despite the yuck factor, human waste-based compost is safe to use on food crops. Just don’t tell auntie how you managed to make those pawpaw you gave her grow so big.
Compost toilets are more work than your average flush loo. The compost chamber needs to be managed so that it has the right amount of moisture, and it can get infested with flies or other bugs. It also needs to be changed when it’s full, and the contents should be regularly turned – but these eco-friendly toilets are a great solution for a small island with no overall sewage system.Homes can install them at relatively low cost and even small resorts can use composting toilets if the owners are willing to put in the time and effort to keep them operating well. The resort my wife and I operate, Ikurangi Eco Retreat (www.ikurangi.com), uses four compost toilets and our guests often comment that, whether or not they had reservations at first, they forget it isn’t an ordinary flush toilet within a day.
With only two public toilet facilities on the island of Aitutaki, one of which is currently not operational, the members of the Aitutaki Conservation Trust (ACT) saw an opportunity to provide much needed services for locals and tourists while also making positive environmental changes. They decided to install “Enviro Loos” which reduce pollution of the land and lagoon.
An Enviro Loo is a “dry sanitation system,” meaning it uses no chemicals, valuable water resources, or power. Instead waste is treated through a natural process of dehydration and evaporation, using wind and sun rather than electrical power. These toilets require minimal maintenance and servicing.
ACT’s first portable Enviro Loo was purchased in 2013 through the Community Initiatives Scheme. Set on a trailer, it became a portable facility that has been used for school sports days and picnics, family and church gatherings, night markets and Christmas celebrations.
While the Enviro Loo fulfilled community needs, its galvanised steel meant that it rusted quickly in the island’s high salt environment. The solution was simple – ACT asked the manufacturer if they could provide the same unit constructed from a more suitable material.
Two new portable units were recently purchased thanks to funding from Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme and Cook Islands Tourism Corporation. The new loos have been placed at the popular beach areas of Ootu Beach and Base One Beach. Both attract large numbers of visitors ranging from cruise ship tourists and lagoon tour operators to the Aitutaki Sailing Club and paddling associations. They are also a popular location for local community groups to camp overnight or hold picnics and events. Prior to the Enviro Loo, Base One had no toilet facilities.
Both units are portable and can be taken to evacuation sites in the event of a cyclone.
Future stages of the project will look at installing permanent composting toilets at the site of the current Enviro Loos. ACT also intends to purchase additional toilets to install at areas such as sports fields, wharf areas and if possible on each of the most frequently visited motu.
Says ACT’s Katrina Armstrong: “Aitutaki Conservation Trust are very grateful to the GEF Small Grants Programme, Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and especially to our community for their continued support of our projects, which aim to help protect our land, lagoon and culture, and for helping to ‘Keep Aitutaki Clean’”.
Our Rarotonga tai roto, or lagoon, is a ta’onga tapu, apinga aro’a tapu, a sacred gift given to us by our tupuna to respect and take care of, and to pass on to our tamariki and future generations. How can we honour that commitment and fix the critical problem that now threatens our lagoon?
It starts with each and every one one of us doing our part. We must tread lightly on our lagoon in order to protect all the fish, shellfish, corals, seaweed, and other resources in it. We must make sure that spillage from our septic tanks doesn’t end up in the lagoon and runoff from agriculture does not pollute our lagoon with animal faeces and pesticides. How can we responsibly manage our wastewater on Rarotonga?
The government and the business community need to step up, especially those who own tourism accommodations. If they want to continue to reap the benefits of their investments, they must also take responsibility for protecting our precious resource.
Twenty-five years ago, before the huge influx of tourists to Rarotonga, Muri and the whole Rarotonga lagoon was pristine. Local people would catch fish, collect kai and shellfish, and harvest remu, seaweed, and matu rori to feed their families. Since about 2001, eating seafood from the lagoon has become too risky for people’s health, and the seafood supply has been greatly reduced. Also, black algal (seaweed) blooms have increased significantly, causing bad odours and unpleasant swimming conditions.
What happened? Over-development, ineffective waste treatment, lack of research and environmental management, insufficient financial and scientific resources, lack of education and understanding, and ineffective communication between all those involved have all played a role in the degradation of Muri lagoon. The lagoon has been polluted due to lack of responsible and informed resource management. We are now dealing with an environmental disaster.
Some claim that the situation is improving, but according to well qualified marine biologists, this is most likely a temporary condition that will further deteriorate in the near future. Addressing the consequence doesn’t work long term, we need to address the cause of the lagoon pollution.
What do we need to do?
Both polluted groundwater and raw or untreated sewage contribute to pollution of lagoons, so we first have to fix the source of pollution in Muri, then evaluate what further action is required. This also means getting resort owners to take responsibility and invest in effective wastewater treatment for their commercial properties, and getting Cook Islands government to provide the same for local residents.
We also need to learn from other Pacific Islands who have the same issues. For instance, Maunalua Bay in Honolulu, Hawai’i, has experienced the same problem, where macro-algal blooms and deterioration of the coral reef has been caused by watershed mud and pollutants being discharged into the bay.
At Tiahura in Moorea, increased numbers of tourists put pressure on the lagoon for many years, and the luxury hotels there were discharging sewage at midnight from pipes a few metres from the beach in the lagoon, hoping the water currents would take it away. Then 20 years ago scientists noticed that the reef was smothered with macro-algal blooms, caused by wastewater discharge from hotels. Australian marine biologist Dr. Eric Wolanski discovered that the water currents at sea were bringing the sewage back over the reef and the reef was getting overloaded by the sewage. The luxury hotels took no action, until a Qantas manager was told about the issue and phoned the hotels telling them he would stop sending Qantas customers to their hotels. That motivated the hotels to take action and fix the problem by secondary treating sewage, and then selling the water for golf courses. This has contributed to improved health of the lagoon and reef at Tiahura.
In March 2017, the Cook Islands government announced it will spend $70 million over a 10 year period to manage wastewater issues in Rarotonga and Aitutaki, with particular focus on the impact on our lagoons. The Wastewater Project Management Unit in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) is formulating a strategy to improve monitoring and scientists’ understanding of water quality issues in Rarotonga’s lagoon. There will be opportunities for the community to engage and workshops will be held at project milestones to provide opportunities for community input.
Let’s all come together and contribute to saving our lagoon before it’s too late.
Auē , te akaroa i ta tatou tamariki!
Dr. Takiora Ingram
At Te Ara Museum in Muri are four large aquarium tanks.
One is pristine, noticeably cleaner than the others. Museum founder Stan Wolfgramm calls this the food tank because it contains species eaten locally — kina, rori, ariri. It’s clean because everything in it works together to vacuum and filter algae. The food tank is a window into what’s happening just beyond the shore.
“It was just a matter of figuring out what belongs and what doesn’t,” Wolfgramm said of creating a self-cleaning tank. “What we learnt is that the environment, if you leave it long enough, brings itself into balance.”
This is the basis of the rā‘ui – a concept that, for centuries, governed the way people interacted with their environment. The early Polynesians understood that taking care of an area or a resource means just letting it take care of itself sometimes. They understood that they had to strike a balance between using their resources and leaving them alone.
At regular meetings – uipā’anga rā‘ui – village leaders would plan for the months ahead, taking into account the breeding seasons, during which species needed space; special occasions or visits for which extra food would be required; and the likelihood of cyclones, after which resources would be scarce. Once they reached agreement, a chief would announce either a rā‘ui mutu kore – a permanent ban – or a rā‘ui ta tuatua – a ban that could be lifted when appropriate.
People honoured the rā‘ui out of understanding, but also out of fear. Breaking the ra’ui could get you sent out to sea in a canoe, beaten, kicked out of your village, or killed, according to Papa Ron Crocombe’s research. Today these punishments seem extreme, but in days before supermarkets, survival depended on a common respect for natural resources.
Rod Dixon wrote in a book called The Rahui that the Mangaians referred to their streams as kauvai toto , or bloodstreams. They saw the waterways as veins extending from the island’s heart — productive taro swamps in its centre. People saw the island as a body, a system in which all parts are connected. They understood that pressure on one part of the environment invariably affected another. If the bloodstreams weren’t kept clean, for instance, the blood couldn’t flow to the heart.
In the modern world, we have moved away from this holistic understanding of how the world works. Many of us don’t consider the interconnections—that chemicals on our plantations cause algal blooms in our lagoons, for example, or that if we kill all the sharks we’re destroying the ecosystems they regulate.
Some pa enua communities still strictly observe the rā‘ui, but for most of us, there was a shift somewhere along the way. When the Cook Islands started exporting crops for profit, planters started timing their harvests around shipping schedules instead of natural cycles. Chiefs were pressured to push for efficiency instead of balance. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides were introduced to encourage bigger, quicker yields. Food resources became profitable first and useful second. On Rarotonga, the rā‘ui was largely forgotten.
In the 90s, tourism authorities and traditional leaders who were concerned about the health of the lagoon joined together to re-institute the rā‘ui. They sourced funding to put signs up around Rarotonga and several on outer islands. Still, enforcement is tough. Today, the consequences of overusing our resources aren’t as immediate or as severe as they once were.
Now, no matter what’s happening in the oceans, we can still buy fish in a tin. If you ask Tupe Short, a traditional leader and planter from Matavera, convenience is making the world blind.
“We are selling the rights to our fish away for money,” he says. “Money can be spent in no time, and then when it’s all gone, what about our fish? We can’t eat money.”
Our bodies send us messages, like pain, when something isn’t right. Our environment does the same. Weird weather, algal blooms, bleached corals—they are signs of a system in distress. In the modern world, most of us tend to ignore the source of a health problem; we manage the pain with medication so we don’t have to think about what’s really going on. We do the same with the world around us.
We can only interpret the signs of the earth, sea, and sky if we’re paying attention, the way the Maori always did.
Scientists and civil society organisations worldwide are concerned about the impacts of deep sea mining (DSM) on the Pacific Ocean and the livelihoods of people living on islands. The people of the Cook Islands should be, too.
According to the government, within the Cook Islands EEZ the seabed has 10 billion tonnes of manganese nodules, containing manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, and rare earth minerals. Companies are interested. The Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Act was adopted by Parliament in November 2009, and the Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA) was established by government in June 2012 to regulate deep seabed mining activities and manage licensing processes.
For the people of the Cook Islands, there are two areas of concern:
· First, the impact of deep sea mining on our own marine environment;
· Second, our liability as a country for implementing deep sea mining exploration licences in international waters of the mineral-rich Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the northern Pacific, a 6km-deep undersea plane covering 4.5 million sq. km about halfway between Hawai’i and Mexico. Many Cook Islanders may not be aware that our government has claimed exploration rights to part of this zone.
It is important that some key issues are considered before we exploit our deep sea minerals.
What are the impacts?
There is agreement by international experts that deep seabed mining operations are likely to irreparably harm sensitive underwater ecosystems. We don’t yet understand how deep-ocean ecosystems change when impacted by human activities, and the consequences of these changes. High seas ecosystems are rich with life and diversity and deserve a high level of protection. We should not rush to exploit deep ocean habitats before they can be documented. Funding mechanisms should be established to fund research and conservation initiatives before we decide to exploit our ocean resources.
Currently, there is no regulatory oversight guiding DSM technology, which will likely raze the deep ocean floor and suck up all the minerals.
Based on past experiences with land-based mining in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and other countries, we know that very little financial benefit trickles down to the people. In addition, these mining operations have caused social unrest, violence, and environmental degradation in these island communities.
In the Cook Islands, revenue from DSM will be held in the Cook Islands Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) that government has established. As it stands now, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management will make decisions about where the funds will be spent. What we need is an independent board made up of informed, responsible citizens and traditional leaders who can all contribute to these important decisions for management of the SWF.
The SPC’s Chief Geoscientist, Dr. Kifle Kahsai, said in 2014: “Historically, mining has negative connotations due to the risks of adverse social and environmental impacts, as well as poor mining revenue management associated with some land-based mining operations.” He also warned the Cook Islands government to make sure that revenues generated by seabed minerals improve the livelihoods of all Cook Islands people.
DSM in the High Seas
The Cook Islands government is eager to exploit habitats in the CCZ in the northern Pacific before scientists have a chance to explore and document these ecosystems. Little is known about the deep seabed, and no conclusive environmental study has yet been completed. What is known is that the life that thrives in this unusual environment is sulfur-based rather than oxygen-based, and we do not know how sulfuric discharge or slurry will impact ocean biodiversity.
In July 2014, the government-owned enterprise, Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC), and GSR, a Belgian company, were granted an exploratory licence in the mineral-rich CCZ by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to explore for polymetallic nodules in a reserved area in international waters. This exploratory licence is for an area of 75,000km², about two-thirds the size of New Zealand’s North Island. Our government claims that the Belgian company covered the application costs, and will cover all the exploration costs.
However, do we know anything about the Belgian mining company’s record with exploitation of mineral resources elsewhere in the world, and what does the company expect in return? What is the Cook Islands government giving away in exchange for this?
Our people have not been fully consulted on the risks and implications of DSM in international waters. What does this mean for local people and communities in terms of rights and responsibilities, especially if there is an environmental disaster in the CCZ, in international waters, or in the high seas? Who will be held liable? How can the Cook Islands plan for and mitigate this? What are the best strategies to communicate these complex issues to local communities?
DSM within the Cook Islands EEZ
While the Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA) has done some community consultation, it is not enough. People have been told about the likely billions of dollars of revenues, but not the possible environmental costs and liabilities. A legal expert from SPC made it clear in 2014 that in the case of any environmental disaster, the Cook Islands government, and therefore the Cook Islands people, will ultimately be responsible for any costs.
What is needed is an independent assessment of what local people and communities want, carried out by a team of both international and local experts, not conducted by the SMA.
Local people and communities need to be asked whether they want large, foreign, multinational companies exploiting these resources at the risk of our ocean environment and nation. What are the likely social and environmental impacts and challenges? Are we willing to commit our economic, environmental and social future to this risky venture, and should we be committing future generations to it also?
Our ancestors treaded softly on our environment and put our people first. Today’s decision-makers should do the same. We have traditional laws and protocols for managing the environment that must be respected by both government and foreign investors.
Our government is promoting ocean conservation on the one hand, and on the other exploitation of ocean resources (both fisheries and DSM). It’s important that the Cook Islands people, not the government, make decisions about the management of our ocean resources. We should not allow government to sacrifice our people’s health, livelihoods, culture, and our marine environment for financial gain.
Let’s join with others around the world who are saying no to deep seabed mining before more is known about its impacts. In May 2017, many worldwide welcomed Apple’s commitment to no longer mine the deep ocean.
Let developed countries explore DSM in their waters, then watch what happens, and learn from their mistakes.
Dr. Takiora Ingram
Reporter: Kia orana Noddy. What a great privilege to be able to meet you and get to know you better. I realise there have been more people that have gone to space than have been to where you are from.
Noddy: Kia orana. Yes, humans need some pretty advanced technology to reach us. We got some humans in the 70s and we’ve had sporadic visits since then. Now we hear the humans are interested again. Looks like a good number of us will be entering the oxygen atmosphere.
Reporter: Why do you think people are interested?
Noddy: People are interested because we’re valuable. We’re nervous this time, though. The first visits were Exploratory — we and our home were being studied. Soon, the visits will be Exploitative.
Reporter: You sound concerned.
Noddy: Well, there’s a lot going on in the ocean – it’s being affected by climate change and human-made pollution. What set of problems will be added to those when we are being moved from our environment? I mean, us nodules are a large part of our ecosystem and there are other species that we support just by existing. So when we are removed, there will be change at home. I still don’t know if that can be positive in any way. I’m told that my value has the possibility of improving many of the lives of people on land communities in my area. Of course I want to help improve the world, but am I the only beacon of help for these communities or are there other ways their lives can be improved, until the problems in the ocean are not as critical as they are now?
Reporter: So how do you think the humans should proceed?
Noddy: Because we are such a unique environment, and one of the last frontiers explored, with new species being discovered as we speak, I would want research to continue on the deep seabed. I’d want humans to find out more about our area and how all species impact and interact with each other. I’d want them to demonstrate that they can make the changes necessary to stop polluting and contributing to the rate of climate change, so that I’d know they were serious. This shouldn’t be much to ask and expect. The benefits of deep sea nodule extraction should benefit all stakeholders, even the ones formed of minerals. I mean, everything on this earth was put here for a reason and it should not only be looked upon for human gain only, right?