Island and Ocean Ecosystems

22 May 2024, Rarotonga, Cook Islands – Drumbeats echoed across Ngai Taporoporo o Takitumu - Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA) on International Day for Biological Diversity as the Cook Islands launched this important forest ecosystem as an ‘Other-effective area-based Conservation Measure’ (OECM). Home to the endemic Kākerōri / Rarotonga Flycatcher (Pomarea dimidiata), a bird recently brought back from the risk of extinction, the new OECM is the very first of its kind in the Pacific region.

The TCA spans 155 hectares of forested area situated within the Takitumu District, on the southeastern side of Rarotonga. It has been safeguarded by three landowning families since 1996 mainly to protect the kākerōri and conserve other unique plant and animal species in the area.  

OECM’s are not formal protected areas but are geographically defined areas governed and managed in ways that sustain positive and long-term outcomes. Their purpose is to achieve long term and effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas.
The launch of the OECM included a visit to the TCA to unveil and bless the TCA signboards at the main entrance in Arakuo, Titikaveka, and also in Avana, Ngatangiia. The signboards were unveiled by representatives of the three landowning families and showcased a pe’e (traditional chant) depicting species found and conserved in the area, a map outlining the boundaries, and information on the establishment and purpose of the TCA in both Cook Islands Maori and English.

Following the unveiling and blessing of the new TCA signs, an official ceremony was held at the Avana Hall, to launch the TCA as an OECM. This included speeches from the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Environment, Hon. Albert Nicholas, who was proud of this momentous event, being a landowner of TCA himself and honouring his ancestors’ decision to safeguard the land for conservation purposes. 

The launch also included speeches from the Director of the National Environment Service (NES), Mr. Halatoa Fua and the Conservation Manager for the TCA, Mr Kamoe Mataiapo Ian Karika. Ms. Terā-‘itirere-ki-Avaiki Rongo, who placed first in the Maori speech competition for Year 7 2024, with a theme on Our Environment, also spoke.

A letter of recognition and registration of the TCA as an OECM from the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, was presented to representatives of the three Ngati by NES Biodiversity Coordinator, Jessie Nicholson.

Ms Elizabeth Munro, NES Environmental Stewardship Manager, said the last 15 months have been a productive learning journey, particularly working with the three landowning tribes of the TCA. 

“The knowledge shared by the landowners on the flora and fauna of TCA as well as historical sites, are information not recorded and through this work we were able to capture this information for future generations,” said Ms Munro. “We have started the plan, we all will maintain the TCA plan and continue with the conservation plan for the TCA for our children to follow”.

The launch also included a presentation of a certificate of recognition from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The Director General, Mr Sefanaia Nawadra, commended the commitment of the Cook Islands to protect and conserve its biodiversity. “We wish to congratulate the Cook Islands on this milestone and extend a special recognition of the three traditional landowning families of the TCA, Ngāti Kainuku, Ngāti Karika and Ngāti Manavaroa, we are very proud of your contributions to biodiversity conservation while also meeting your own livelihoods and wellbeing. Meitaki ma’ata.”

In 2023, SPREP in partnership with the UNEP-WCMC supported the Cook Islands through a national workshop, bringing together a range of stakeholders to learn about the OECM concept, possible benefits, challenges, tools and assistance that would be available to support the establishment of OECMs. 

Since the 2023 workshop, the Cook Islands National Environment Service held a series of consultations with landowners and communities, including formation of a Working Group, leading to granted consent by the landowners for submission of the TCA to be recognised as an OECM on 12 March 2024. A collaboration that demonstrated genuine partnership and commitment to protecting Cook Islands biodiversity not just for the present, but for future generations. 

OECMs can contribute to a country’s reporting on global targets associated with the Convention on Biological Diversity and are firmly entrenched in the Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (also known as The Biodiversity Plan), in committing 30 percent of areas of particular importance to be protected and effectively conserved and managed by 2023, and the designation of the TCA as an OECM is in line with contributing towards this target. 

The 2024 theme for International Biodiversity Day is to “Be Part of the Plan”, a call to action to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. The Cook Islands also supported the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People which called for 30 per cent of protected areas on land and sea to conserve nature.