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The Northern Cook Islands atoll wonders, waits

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 18, 2009) – Climate change has already taken its toll in Pukapuka, Vaine Wichman discovered when she went there a few weeks ago. The development economist, business owner and former MP devotes her Economy Column today to the plight of the North.

I had the amazing fortune to follow Liz Koteka to Pukapuka to do some work for the island. The trip was by boat, courtesy of Greenpeace.

In the hours we spent enroute to the island, we had a chance to catch up on what this agency was doing to save our planet.

When we got to the island, I was firstly amazed by the resilience of a people that hadn’t seen a ship for over three months, and at the same time disappointed with the dredges of development that had reached its shores.

While we were there, home to home interviews were being held. We heard some amazing stories of how foreshores had shifted and how food in the lagoon had disappeared within a span of 30 to 40 years ago. That’s a short time span.

While we are in the throes of a global economic recession – which some say doesn’t affect us in the Cooks – the planet has been breathing in and breathing out. In recent times it has been having some difficulty breathing. While for some of us it is business as usual, for our people in the north it is now becoming a matter of whether to leave or to stay.

Greenpeace political advisor Seni Nabou told Liz and I that this was going to be a very important year for climate change in the Pacific region. She showed us how the reality of climate change is outstripping even the research findings. On this trip we even heard it in the stories the Pukapukans were telling the Red Cross volunteers conducting the house to house interviews for the National Environment Service.

‘After Cyclone Percy, there are no more pandanus trees along large parts of the ocean coastline,’ said one mama. ‘Before we used to harvest payua (paua) in the lagoon, but now for some time, they have disappeared,’ said another. To a by-stander these might sound like just daily comments, but to an environmentalist these are warning signals.

Pandanus trees protect by keeping the sand and coastline in check. No more paua suggests that some human activity has permanently changed the island’s marine life.

Seni shared that there was going to be this big climate change meeting in Copenhagen, and that good Pacific leadership and representatives must go to that meeting. Why?

Our Pacific region is now considered one of the most vulnerable and least prepared to cope with the projected disastrous impacts of climate changes caused by global warming. The continued existence of some low-lying islands is in doubt and in this regard our survival must be placed on the global agenda of action.

Our main industry tourism thrives on a healthy and beautiful environment. Climate change suggests we have to work harder to protect this beautiful environment.

The Greenpeace boat’s visit to our country and voyage through the Pacific islands over to Cairns in August is part of all our island governments’ and peoples’ efforts to ask those who are responsible to commit to reducing what they send into our air, sea and land.

So it’s up to our Cook Islands delegates to Cairns and then on to Denmark to take leadership and to work seriously in these climate change negotiations for the sake of our people, not just in the North but throughout the country. It will be important to send our most bold and hard-nosed warrior negotiators to get the outcomes we need.

We will need a fair deal at Copenhagen. It will have to be a deal founded on those who are most responsible for the problem assisting in solving it, and those who are the first to suffer from it, being protected.

I have always maintained that the northern Cooks is the strongest economic powerhouse for the country – some of our major ocean and lagoon resources are there. In the future, visitors are not going to get enough with just sun, surf and sand. Future visitors will want authentic destinations, interactive visits, and real life experiences. But current country growth visions are bound to Rarotonga, and anything outside that island is placed in the ‘too hard to do’ basket.

Is it no wonder that our Northerners head offshore, not because they want to but because it is the best option for them at this time, as development focuses only on a few options for economic development reasons. As a result, their basic requests remain unsatisfied as visit after visit by officials leave their shores.

Kia mau te sereanga, kia mau!

Cook Islands News: http://www.cinews.co.ck/index.htm


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