Cook Islands: September 2010 Archives
Seacology recently celebrated the completion of our project in Muri in the Cook Islands, where we are protecting the region's fragile coral reef and surrounding lagoon.
Scattered across central Polynesia, the Cook Islands contain hundreds of miles of coral atolls and tropical lagoons. Inhabited by Polynesians since the 6th century, the islands were not discovered by Europeans for several more centuries, and were named after the 18th century explorer Captain James Cook. Formerly under the jurisdiction of New Zealand, the Cook Islands are now independently governed.
The largest of the fifteen islands, Rarotonga is encircled by shallow lagoons and coral reefs. Home to numerous fish, seabirds, invertebrates, and other species, coral reefs like those on Rarotonga are marine metropolises. The corals themselves are small animals whose deposits of calcium carbonate make up the foundation of the reef ecosystem. It is on these layers of hardened coral that other species build their lives (see picture below). A rich variety of fish inhabit coral reefs, feeding off the many smaller fish, invertebrates, and plants that thrive in reefs, using the structures for habitat and protection. Some, such as the clownfish and parrotfish, are known for their vibrant colors and patterns. Numerous invertebrates, such as sea urchins and sponges, as well as seagrasses and algae, also populate reefs. With such abundant life, larger animals, including seabirds, marine turtles, dolphins, barracuda and sharks, live in or frequently visit coral reefs, depending on them for sustenance.
Worldwide, coral reefs are among the most threatened of all ecosystems. High in biodiversity, they cover less than 1% of the world's oceans but contain about 25% of all identified marine species. Corals are highly susceptible to many environmental hazards, such as pollution, destructive fishing practices, and the harmful effects of climate change, particularly ocean acidification. With reefs disappearing so rapidly, it is imperative that intact reefs, such as those in Muri Lagoon, receive as much protection as possible.
Close to the reef is Muri Beach, a popular tourist destination that features beautiful beaches and lagoons as well as coral reefs (see photo, below). Muri's corals were recently threatened by preparations for the 2009 Pacific Mini Games--plans included clearing a large portion of the lagoon for boating events. With the local community adamant about conserving their lagoon and natural resources, this development was soon halted, and the village sought to establish permanent conservation restrictions for the area.