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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (October 25 2000 – Cook Islands News)---At least two environmental groups are fearful that time has finally run out for Suwarrow Atoll as negotiations continue over the uninhabited atoll.

"It may well be given that this government has decided that pearl farming [on Suwarrow] will be of benefit to the country," said Jolene Bosanquet of the Taporoporoanga Ipukarea Society (TIS) in a media statement last night.

Bosanquet and Takitumu Conservation Area or TCA president Ian Karika met Marine Resources Minister Dr. Robert Woonton yesterday to discuss Suwarrow amid rumors of a project going ahead with an Australian company.

Bosanquet says the minister advised them that while his government was environmentally sensitive, development of the outer islands will take place and that includes Suwarrow.

Karika and Bosanquet say the two environmental groups do not want to be drawn into political or land ownership issues. They are also not anti-development, they say.

"What we are against is inappropriate development and a pearl farm in the Suwarrow lagoon with two million imported shells, with its associated environmental impacts on the islets and displacement of the breeding birds. (That) is of concern," says Bosanquet.

"We feel as though we are back to step one," says Bosanquet. "Last year we believed we had won with our ‘Save Our Suwarrow’ campaign. International environmental agencies gave us their full support. Now we have to start all over again with this government," she says.

Taporoporoanga has already asked the Office of the Prime Minister, who it is understood is responsible for Suwarrow, not to proceed with any development proposals until a management plan is put in place for the atoll. They also asked for the government to acknowledge the International Conservation Status Suwarrow has been accorded by IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

"And thirdly to implement appropriate legislation to protect Suwarrow forever," says Bosanquet.

No assurances have been given to date by either the prime minister or minister of marine resources. TIS has not yet met with the minister for the environment.

Suwarrow is seen as a very important seabird breeding area in the Central Pacific.

"If development other than a small eco-tourism - conservation area takes place in Suwarrow, the birds will be disturbed. Where will they go?" asks Bosanquet.

Karika is also worried. "We have an opportunity of developing yet another world acclaimed conservation area for the good of the planet."

"The long-term value of this type of environmental development is worth far more in dollar terms than short-term inappropriate development," he says.

They say Minister Woonton suggested a meeting of interested environmental groups to discuss what is best for Suwarrow. "We see this as a positive step and will be following this up", says Bosanquet.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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