Coral Restoration Cook Islands | The Meaning Behind the Reef


Our project and NGO was founded by local Cook Island Maori photographer and environmental advocate Alex King and developed alongside a team of local friends and family who are passionate about their ocean and island home.


As a storyteller, photographer, mother and someone who stirs towards environmental activism, Alex created Te Ara o te Akau, a platform, with the support of close friends and family for the purpose of restoring the health and balance of our coral reef in the Cook Islands, and providing better protection and management of our marine space, a symbiotic relationship between us and the ocean.


Our key role in this space is to provide an educational and action based community program that will influence a shift and change in the human psyche and behaviour towards nature and aims to restore, conserve, and protect these vital ecosystems, ensuring they continue to support the well-being of our communities, economy, and future generations.


We envision a thriving and resilient ocean space in the Cook Islands, where vibrant coral reefs are a symbol of hope, unity, and sustainability.


"We want to be a strong part of the global movement to revolutionise ocean conservation, and protect our eco systems, the foundation of our very existence.

With a small team of young locals, passionate ocean lovers and advocates here in the Cook Islands, our aim with this project is to benefit the local community and worldwide continuation of ocean education and awareness around protecting our blue planet. We want to encourage and build community that is aware and prepared to sustain our oceans for the future. What do we have without our coral reef. We lose our land, our food, our living. " ~ Alex


Collectively joining forces with a crew of passionate and voluntary local community members, the journey began to creating a tangible and impactful project that could see our environment and community reconnecting and bonding in harmony. Within this community project, you will expect to see an expansion towards collaboration with other local NGO's and local farmers who are land owners, on agriculture practices, planting native flora and fauna and stream health, thus mitigating more issues seen in land pollution and run off into our lagoon. We also aim to tackle the banning and restriction of chemicals that have a heavy impact on our marine space.


With the support of government officials, agencies, local businesses, our traditional village leaders(arongo mana), and the community itself here in Rarotonga, Alex and the team spent months structuring a major support line in the community to create lagoon coral nurseries where they will enhance and expand the growth, and life of the coral reef in the Cook Islands, bringing forth local community to be the caretakers of their coral reef, and the health of their ocean.


Why?

As the effects of climate change and human disruption by development has increased, then impacts on our coral reefs are increasingly being felt. Our tourism industry, while a key revenue generator for our country, has over decades impacted our reefs through human intrusion in sensitive habitats as well as been a key contributor to contamination of reefs from terrestrial nutrient flows, thus reducing the health of our ocean and shores. The abundance of marine life and biodiversity has significantly decreased due to coral bleaching by high sea temperatures from climate change, sedimentation from onshore developments, pollution and contamination from septic tank systems, and threats to the coral eco system by overexploitation and overfishing. 



How?

By using a range of methods, Te Ara o te Akau plans to rehabilitate and restore the coral inside the lagoon and outside of the reef.

TAOTA(Te Ara o te Akau) will build a number of nursery sites in the lagoon of selected islands that are in need of coral restoration within the Cook Islands. Our nursery sites consist of pyramid frames and rope structures to help coral propagation. These restoration methodologies have been continuously tested and used successfully in many other coral restoration programs globally.

By carefully selecting and collecting broken and loose coral fragments along the lagoon floor, these fragments will then be transferred to our coral nursery where they will be looked after and maintained for further growth.

Our NGO will run volunteer programs, memberships and educational workshops for schools of all ages and community members alike. This will give our local community the chance to be involved in conservation and learning to be custodians of our ocean.

How can you reduce your impact as a local or visitor to reef reliant communities?


How can we as visitors help or reduce our impact on the ocean and the communities that depend on them?

I. Don't stand on coral

Standing on coral can crush and cause major damage to these fragile animals. Coral have tiny polyps extending tentacles which capture food and nutrients in the water. Standing, trampling, touching or sitting on coral can kill them, and anything tiny that may be living inside them.

Please do not stand or touch any coral!

III. Concious Shopping.

Tourists like to buy souvenirs to take home. Like the shell of the Triton’s Trumpet or Conch Shell.


The animal who lived in this shell is the natural predator of the Crown of Thorns(Starfish) or "Taramea"

Because the Triton’s Trumpet is being overfished, the natural balance is therefore disrupted and the number of Crown of Thorns can largely increases. 


Crown of Thorns eats coral!This is happening in large phases in the Cook Islands and only a small amount of locals are dedicated to their removal on the reef.


Be conscious about where and what you are buying for their sacrifice is a large one to the environment.

II. Plastic Waste

This is one that tourists can largely reduce when entering the Cook Islands.


Leave your disposable rubbish behind. Bringing in disposable items/plastics/nappies etc means our landfills increases more rubbish, doubling or tripling the amount of waste. In turn we see this left on our beaches and entering streams and the lagoon. Buying your products here also means supporting local businesses and spending your money within the community.

IIII. Sunscreen

Minimising the amount of chemicals we put in the water is another way of reducing our impact on the ocean. Imagine over 250,000 visitors within a few months in the Cook Islands swimming in the lagoon and passages covered in sunscreen. We see sunscreen slicks on the surface of the water often and can't imagine the damage


Alternatively visitors can protect themselves from the sun is by simply wearing a rash shirt, t-shirt or long sleeves can significantly reduce the chance of being burnt from the sun. Wearing sunscreen can also ruin the rubber on your mask and snorkel.


Mission


Our mission is to lead a comprehensive and collaborative effort to rejuvenate the coral reefs of the Cook Islands, fostering a harmonious relationship between nature and our people. We are committed to:


Resilience: Implementing innovative coral restoration techniques to enhance the resilience of our reefs in the face of climate change, pollution, and other threats.

Education: Educating our communities and visitors about the importance of coral reefs, nurturing a deep appreciation for their ecological and cultural significance.

Partnerships: Building strong partnerships with local and international organizations, scientists, and

governments to share knowledge, resources, and expertise.

Sustainability: Promoting sustainable fishing, tourism, and land use practices to reduce stress on our reefs and ensure their long-term health.

Community Engagement: Empowering our communities to actively participate in coral rehabilitation

efforts, fostering a sense of ownership and pride in our marine heritage.

Monitoring and Research: Conducting continuous research

Core Values


Stewardship: We are committed stewards of our marine environment, dedicated to its protection and

restoration.

Inclusivity: We welcome all voices and perspectives, recognizing that collective action is key to success.

Innovation: We embrace innovation and adapt to emerging challenges and opportunities in coral conservation.

Respect: We respect our cultural traditions and the wisdom of our ancestors, while also valuing scientific knowledge.

Transparency: We are open and transparent in our actions, decisions, and use of resources.


Story Updates


Phase 1- Research & Learning for our team



We have officially started our project/campaign of coral restoration. Our team have met up and gone through a whiteboard session of clear methods and techniques, types of coral species, location scouting, time scheduling and village meetings.



April 2023





Phase 2- Meetings & Research



Deciding on the methods that will be used, fragmentation is the less cost effective method for our project at this current stage. Build nurseries! We have also gained insight and knowledge from our marine experts and support line. Our team attended a coral taxonomy session with Dr Teina Rongo



May 2023





Phase 2- Nurseries



After collecting the coral we are now replanting the coral into the built nurseries.

We have set up Nursery Site #1 called Papua Nursery. Within this nursery site we have 5 pyramid frames which consist of Acropora, Pocillapora and Porites coral species.


JULY 2023





Phase 2- Maintenance Process & Data



This part of the phase our coral has been planted into the built nurseries and will have started the cleaning process and weekly maintenance by our team members. We have started our first part of data collection and observing the growth process



July 2023