More than 93% of climate changeʻs impact is on the Oceans. Sea levels rise, temperatures rise, acidic levels rise, fishstocks deplete, and coral bleaches. Low-lying, small islands in the Pacific are disproportionately at risk of losing land and livelihood. Sea levels will rise an expected 10-32 inches (by the late 21st century, according to data from the UN. Pukapuka sits forty-feet at its highest point and three feet at its lowest point. Its not a question of if, but a question of when.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlights the importance of indgenous people in conserving lands, seas, and resources. Those reliant on their environment have traditional management practices that contributes to biodiversity, food security, and the sustainable use of resources. The close relationship of indigenous peoples to their enviornment also means they are often the first and most servely impacted by climate change.
Pukapukans have survived on a two sqaure mile coral for the last two thousand years thanks to a rich scientific knowledge of their enviornment. Pukapukans have a wealth of management practices that ensures biodiversity, food security, and the sustainable use of resources. This atoll has stories.
Te Ipukarea Society is a member based non-government, civil society environmental organisation. Established in 1996, it is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International. Its mission is to promote the balance and harmony between Cook Islands people and the enviornment. Projects inlcude protecting biodiversity, managing waste, promoting ecologically sustainable development, youth training, and climate change resiliency. Visit their website to join and contribute.
Koreo O Te Orau is an environmental non-governmental organisation incorporated in 2017. The name translates as knowledge of the sky, land, and sea. The organisation is made up of Cook Islanders passionate about protecting the culture, environment, and natural resources of the nation. Focal areas include terrestrial and marine research, working with indigenous leaders, education through school environmental programs, and media outreach.
Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old climate activist explains the urgency of the cause and why we have to change policy and legislation.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
United Nations Climate Change Summit
The Cook Islands is a self-governing nation of 15 islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers almost two million square kilometers of ocean. Traditional leaders work with the government and local NGOs on solutions to mitigate the impact ofclimate change.
The Rʻaui/Lauhi system in the Cook Islands protects a particular resource or area for a given period of time. This ingenious system requires careful environmental monitoring. For example, rather then protecting coconut crabs indefinitely, there is a ban put on them when they are scarce and when in abundance the ban is lifted. Traditional leaders continually monitor and change the rules around harvesting and prohibition. The Rʻaui/Lauhi systsem is especially adept at monitoring reef and marine species. Pukapuka, Mangaia, Manihiki, Penryhn, and most of the outlying islands practice this system. Suwarrow and Takutea are protected atolls where fish and bird species thrive.
Rarotonga, the main island reliant on tourism, has recently looked at reinstating parts of this system. Capitalism and indigenous systems of conservation often clash with one another. Seabed mining and commercial fishing as revenue sources for the country clash with the Rʻaui/Lauhi indigenous system of conservation. Seabed mining and large scale commercial fishing are hotly contested issues that traditional leaders, NGOʻs, and government in the Cook Islands are working to resolve.
Marae Moana is currently the largest commitment by a single country for integrated marine management and conservation. This multiple-use marine park extends over the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of the Cook Islands, an area of 1.9 million square kilometres. When declaring the Marae Moana Act 2017, Prime Minister Henry Puna said at the time, “With the full support of my government, traditional leaders and local communities, as well as the past contributions by the present Opposition, the Marine Park will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep-sea mining, with conserving core biodiversity and natural assets, in the ocean, reefs and islands”.
Seabed mining and the selling of large scale commercial fishing licenses within the Marae Moana remain controversial. No commercial fishing zones for 50 nautical miles around each of the 15 islands recently passed. Conservationist Jacqueline Evans is the Director of the Marae Moana Coordination Office and has to balance the economicc interests of the government with the environmental interests of conservation. She recently received the prestigious 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize (https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/jacqueline-evans/) . Her acceptance speech includes looking at legislation to protect the rights of then ocean. Jacque Evans acceptance speech:
Throughout Polynesia, a version of the story of how the demigod Maui snarred the sun exists. La/Ra the Sun God travelled too fast for the people to finish their work. Maui snarred him and slowed him down with ropes. The Sun God made a deal with Maui that half the year he would slow down to have longer days. This would help people grow food, fish, and hunt. The other half of the year he would move quickly and have shorter days. Thanks to Maui the power of the sun was harnaressed for the benefit of the people.
Many of the areas most affected by climate change already have warm climates and can harness the power of the sun. Solar power eliminates the cost and polluting emissions of diesel. Diesel has to be shipped to many of these island nations leaving a large carbon footprint.
The Cook Islands plans to be 100% solar by 2020. New Zealand, Australia, Japan, UNDP, SPREP, SIDS-DOCK, and the Asian Development Bank have all provided funding. The Northern Group atolls of Rakahanga, Pukapuka, Nassau, Tongareva, and Manihiki are all fully solar powered by photovolatic batteries and local workers manage the system. The Southern islands are well on their way with Mangaia complete.The Cook Islands plans on eliminating fossil fuels and being 100% solar by 2020. Given that Maui snarred the sun, this is the perfect time for Polynesia to re-snare the sun. Reference
In 2012, following more than a century of petitions and legal action by local iwi (Maori tribal group), the Whanganui river in New Zealand was granted the legal status of a person under the name Te Awa Tupua. This legal victory means that the river now enjoys the same rights and responsibilities before the law as people (and corporations!). The New Zealand government has officially recognised the river as a source of great physical and spiritual sustenance to the people who live alongside it. This precedent-setting legal case is the first time the rights of a river have been guaranteed in this way, opening up exciting possibilities for protecting, and changing how we understand our relationship with, the natural world. The Cook Islands is looking at doing this for its ocean through the Marae Moana initiative.
Many of the islands most effected by warming oceans and rising tides rely on diesel powered cargo boats for service. These cargo diesel boats leave a large carbon footprint. A few small cargo vessels are making an effort to rely on wind and solar power to reduce their carbon footprint.
One of these sailing vessels, the KWAI SV, provides much needed goods throughout Kiribati and the Northern Cook Islands. Relying primarily on sail with a back-up diesel engine means that KWAI is one of the only vessels in the world providing a regular cargo service under sail. Harnessing wind power cuts down on the costs of diesel and carbon emissions.
The Okeanos Foundation has also been exploring sustainable sea transport. Three small traditional Polynesian sailboats (vakas) in Vanuatu, Marshall Islands, the Marianas, and French Polynesia. They are also experimenting with coconut oil powered engines, solar powered engines, and solar-hybrid propulstion systems. The goal is to have reliable fossil-free transport of pepole, food, medicine and supplies between Pacific islands. The model of wind and solar powered boats (vakas) to provide sustainable sea transport is a beautiful solution for the future taken from the past.
Coral farming is the process whereby fragments of corals are collected from the local reefs, raised in nurseries until mature, and then installed at the restoration site. After decades of scientific, small-scale, and community-based projects around the world, its been shown to be a viable method for restoring degraded reefs. With the advent of innovative coral farming techniques, now is the time to launch large-scale restoration efforts to revive and protect the valuable coral reef resources that are at risk. The Cook Islands has done small scall coral farming on the atoll of Aitutaki. The Aitutaki Marine Research Centre grows and then plants live coral and young paʻua (ginat clams) into the Aitutaki lagoon. This project could grow and become a part of eco-tourism.
Ocean farming has the potential to restore ecosystems, mitigate climate change, create jobs, and support food security. In Long Island Sound, a network of cooperatives called GreenWave has been growing shellfish and seaweed for food, biofuel and fertilizer without use of freshwater or other inputs — making it one of the most sustainable forms of food production on the planet. GreenWave’s model is open-source. The potential of replication is tremendous: a network of small ocean farms about the size of Washington state could feed the world and, as biofuel, replace all the oil in the United States, while simultaneously capturing five times the amount of carbon as land-based plants.