Cook Islands Sea Urchin Die-Off Spreading Beyond Avarua

Local experts send sample to New Zealand to try and determine cause

By Rashneel Kumar

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 9, 2016) – The rapid die-off of sea urchins near Avarua has spread to other parts of Rarotonga.

Initially, the local marine experts found sea urchins dying off in the waters near the township only.

But Climate Change Cook Islands adviser Doctor Teina Rongo said the urchin die-off was now all around the island.

It is affecting only one species Echinothrix dideama, which is known locally as vana.

Local marine experts have sent specimens of affected sea urchins to Cawthron Institute in Nelson, New Zealand, for analysis. They hope to learn more about the sudden die-off in our lagoon.

Dr Rongo said he would be able to make more comments once he gets the results of the analysis.

In an earlier interview with CI News, the local marine biologist said sea urchins have proven to be an important herbivore on the reef and their rapid decline could worsen the algal bloom in Rarotongan waters.

Algal blooms are already an issue for the tourism industry with the recent rise in the sea weed in Muri waters, which is considered one of the top tourist spots in the country.

“Sea urchins are important grazers on the reef. They remove the sea weed allowing corals to grow, which is important for our reefs,” Rongo, who holds a PhD in Marine Biology, said earlier.

“This problem occurred in the Caribbean in 1980s and it took 13 months for the disease to spread from Panama throughout the Caribbean.

“The consequence of this was a setback to the reef community of Caribbean from a coral dominated to an algal-dominated system. Till this day, these reefs of Caribbean have not recovered.

“Therefore, the die off of sea urchins is not good for us. We can’t afford to face a similar consequence.”

Initial investigation into the sea urchins die-off revealed it is likely to be pathogenic.

That means viruses, bacteria, and other types of germs that cause disease.

Rongo said they suspect the die-off could be because of a water-borne pathogen.

The Rarotonga community have been asked not to consume vana until further notice due to its possible health hazard.

Cook Islands News
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