Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary: by Danny Mataroa and Tua Pittman.
The Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative (PICI), the Rarotonga-based organisation behind the push to create a shark sanctuary in all Cook Islands waters, is excited about increasing support to protect sharks.
The group has recently started to travel around the southern Cooks, engaging in community consultations about shark protection, working with schools and dispelling some media blunders about sharks, while hoping to garner local champions.
Already holding letters of support from the island councils of Palmerston and Manihiki, PICI was excited to learn that a recent trip to Mangaia resulted in a similar outcome. The entire island council voted in support of the creation of a shark sanctuary, which effectively bans the commercial fishing of shark and use of gear, such as trace wire, used to target shark.
PICI programme manager Jess Cramp, who traveled to Mangaia last month, was very pleased with the outcome of her visit.
”Of course I want to protect sharks, but more importantly, I want to know how islanders feel about sharksI hope to reverse some of the negative media images about sharks and prove that they are worth protecting.“
When asked why Mangaia chose to support the shark sanctuary, Helen Henry, island secretary of Mangaia, said: ”The Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative (PICI) approached Mangaia Island authorities earlier in the year to rally support towards legislating the ban of commercial fishing of sharks in the Cook Islands EEZ.
”At that time, the Island Council spoke briefly about the issue but did not pay too much attention to the matter given that the shark species was considered a menace to the local fishermen.
”The lack of understanding of the animal’s existence also posed a setback for Mangaia to come on board to support the cause. However, after PICI delegation of two, dedicated officers Jess Cramp and Mitchell Thornton, arrived in person to island to promote the request and answer any queries, the sentiments of the Island Council changed.
”Jess distributed letters and brochures (English and Maori), aired shark finning footage on local Mangaia TV, and visited the school daily while on island to promote PICI’s intentions. She also visited selected island leaders, including Aronga Mana secretary Kavana Tuaiva Mautairi, three of the six district councilors, Metu Ruatoe (Tavaenga), Pa Epi Mana (Ivirua) and Ngatamaine Ivaiti (Keia). She also visited local fisherman Aerenga Matapo, secretary Helen Marion Henry and his worship mayor Teremoana Atariki, showing locally made footage of Cook Islanders supporting the cause. The Island Council met on 26 June and all present passed the motion to offer support to making the Cook Islands EEZ a shark sanctuary for commercial fishing, but without affecting the local activities that may involve the occasional catch if caught up in lines. It is obvious that the diligent efforts of Jess and PICI on island played a significant part to engaging the support of the Mangaia authorities.“
PICI has recently visited Mauke and Aitutaki, where the island councils are discussing shark protection and plans to visit Atiu and Mitiaro later this month.
Published in Cook Islands News on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Follow PICI and Polynesia Shark Defenders on Facebook for the latest on the campaign to create the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary.