Brief update from Aitutaki

Kia orana! Just a short post today; we’ve heard from our ALMP team presently working in Aitutaki, surveying the corals, fish, and invertebrates.

Eco volunteers Jess Trewin and Marcel Grooten surveying the lagoon using SCUBA.

Sounds like they’ve had long days, but they get to spend them in a beautiful clear lagoon and the nights on the motu Akaiami, so we can’t complain much, right?

Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis) in the Aitutaki Lagoon.

Here’s what Mareike had to say: “Observations made thus far include beautiful reefs with glass clear water and high coral cover. At one site, we were visited by 5 huge Giant Trevally that kept patrolling along the reef. At another site, the team witnessed the damage that a Crown of Thorn Starfish (COT) can cause to a reef. We saw two big COTs on a coral bommie that had eaten most of the coral and only left the dead bare skeletons behind.”

Mature Crown of Thorn starfish (Acanthaster planci) feeding on corals in the Aitutaki Lagoon. The white objects you see are the sampling transect line and quadrat used for surveys.

The team will be there until November 3. At the completion of the expedition, a report will be presented to the Aitutaki Island Council and Ministry of Marine Resources to help them manage the lagoon environment.

Eco volunteer Marcel Grooten inspecting corals in the Aitutaki Lagoon.

Thank you, team, and thank you Aitutaki!

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Three bottles blue

Walking along near Rutaki, I (Tiffany) found a beautiful blob on the beach.

Such a bright blue!

This pretty thing is called a bluebottle, and it’s a siphonophore, a type of marine cnidarian much like a jellyfish. There are a few around Rarotonga that can wash in during storms; in fact, the Te Ipukarea society described treatment for a sting in their September newsletter.

The ‘bubble’ you see is called the ‘sail’, filled with gases (mostly carbon monoxide) to keep the blue bottle floating at the surface. The tentacles hang down and are used to catch fish and plankton.

The sail that led to the name "man o' war", although this is a small and plain specimen.

There are two main types that look very similar: the Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis), and the Indo-Pacific Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia utriculus), which is approximately half the size and has only one fishing tentacle. You can see that the one I found is the smaller one, likely Physalia utriculus.

The photographed finger is roughly 9.5 cm/3.75 inches from knuckle to tip. Note that the bluebottle's tentacles are collapsed here; in the water, they would reach out much longer.

Continuing our walk, we found two more bluebottles further along the beach. It’s common to see several bluebottles if you find one – they hang out together in blooms or swarms (cool fact: groups of jellyfish are called ‘smacks’, but this term is not quite right for bluebottles because they are not true jellyfish).

Third bluebottle found.

So what eats bluebottles? Leatherback sea turtles, for one. Leatherbacks are the only living soft-shelled sea turtles, with thick rubbery skin instead of hard external scutes made of keratin (like our fingernails). Their thick skin protects them from bluebottle and jellyfish stings.


A note: do not touch a bluebottle, or any animal that has tentacles or appears to be a jellyfish, even when you find them washed up on the beach. The stingers can still be venomous several hours after the animal dies and even after being separated from the main body.

If you do receive a sting from a bluebottle, remain calm and follow some basic procedures. Remove all parts of the tentacles/stingers, preferably using tweezers or a stick, not your bare hands, and making sure that you don’t get the stingers anywhere else on your body. Wash the affected area in seawater. Apply hot water (~45°C) to the affected area for 15 or more minutes. Cool fact:  you’re basically cooking the toxins to inactivate them – the heat denatures the proteins that are stinging you. I always think of eggs when imagining how heat denatures proteins: an uncooked egg and a cooked egg look pretty different!

If the condition worsens or discomfort continues, or for any other questions, seek professional medical help.

When you recover, head back out to explore the beach and ocean! Remember, the animal was trying to defend itself or make its living, not attack you. Accidents like stings are rare.

And remember to look where you’re stepping on the beach…

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Trash talk: Stubbing out a problem

Probably the most common type of waste that we found during our recent rubbish round-up events was cigarette butts. This type of litter is a common problem, with cigarette butts and related waste (e.g. cigarette boxes) dominating litter worldwide.

USA Today presented this infographic and a discussion of cigarette waste (click to be taken to the article).

The quantity that we saw makes me wonder if people know why tossing butts is a problem. So why do cigarette butts make bad litter? Aren’t they just paper, a ‘natural’ product?

Cigarette filters look like they’re made out of cotton and paper, but appearances can be deceiving. The filters are made out of a type of plastic, and especially after the cigarette is smoked, the filter contains harmful chemicals that will seep into water and can kill animals.

Centipede and a cigarette butt.


Cigarettes are wrapped in paper, yes, and tobacco itself will also biodegrade, but the filters are made of cellulose acetate. Derived from cellulose (which is like wood fibres and will biodegrade), cellulose acetate is a plastic that takes significantly longer to break down.

Plastic is not the only problem. Cigarette filters are primarily made of cellulose acetate, but other chemicals can be present in the fibres, particularly after the cigarette has been smoked.

An experiment testing the lethal dose of cigarette butts on water fleas Daphnia magna, a common marine organism that can be used as an indicator of environmental damage, showed that one used cigarette butt in 8 litres of water (or about 2 gallons) is enough to kill water fleas.

Quantity: Worldwide, over 5.6 trillion cigarette butts are produced every year (as noted in the Daphnia article above). That number is a volume of 2.8 billion litres, equivalent to 9,500,000,000 kg of cigarette butts. If 1 in 10 butts ends up littered, as the data suggest, that’s 560 billion butts littered.

For water fleas, that means 4.48 trillion litres of water ruined due only to cigarette butts, not any of the other problems facing marine systems.


What else makes cigarette butts bad litter?

The size and shape: The average cigarette filter is 13 to 25 mm long. This small size and shape looks particularly tasty to animals like sea turtles, seabirds, etc. There is no nutritional value to the cigarette filters, plus because they don’t break down, the filters can clog up the animal’s gut. These problems eventually lead to starvation.

Transport: cigarette butts are light and can be blown by the wind. They float, so water can move them great distances. This means that the problem is not isolated to the area immediately beside houses, bars, or other areas with lots of people.

These butts are hard to pick up compared to larger waste like bottles or cups, although our excellent round-up volunteers faced the challenge with aplomb. Any plastic that is not picked up, though, will stay in the marine environment for years. We cannot expect others to come later and pick it up: small pieces of plastic that wash out to sea will stay there for 400 years or longer, practically forever.


What can you do?

1.) Dispose of your waste properly

2.) Pick up dropped filters that you see

3.) If you see a smoker littering, remind them to be responsible about where they put their waste – cigarette filters are plastic, not paper or cotton

4.) Push for biodegradable filters – there are some options, one listed in this post by M. Mulvihill and W. Hessler for Environmental Health News regarding a promising technology for biodegradable filters


Remember the 5 R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot (compost) the rest!

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Blue sea stars & green sea turtles

I am still regularly astonished at the bright colours of sea creatures here on the coral reefs and lagoon areas of Rarotonga. I grew up in a semi-arid steppe climate, where most animals are responsible shades of green, yellow, brown, tan, taupe, and beige. Colour is present, but you sometimes have to look closely. Here in the tropics, it looks like a seven-year-old with a new box of crayons planned the world.

Close view of a blue sea star in Aitutaki’s lagoon. Photo: Mareike Sudek.

If you come from an area like I did, you might find it just as startling to look down while snorkeling and see a royal blue sea star on a backdrop of creamy sand and pale coral. This species is Linckia laevigata, or ‘Etu-moana in the local language (thanks to the Cook Islands Biodiversity Database!).

These sea stars can be large, and their colour is very vivid even when unfortunately washed up on the beach, like this one:

Blue sea star washed ashore (approximately 20 cm/8 inches across, armtip to armtip).

Particularly if you have visited the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada, you might be familiar with another sea star, Pisaster ochraceus, or the ochre sea star.

Close view of Pisaster.

Pisaster sea stars were made famous in marine ecology by Bob Paine, a researcher who developed the concept of “keystone species” by observing the interactions of sea stars and other intertidal organisms (animals that live in the boundary between land and sea, in water when the tide is high and in air when the tide is out). Paine removed all the Pisaster he found on some rocks and left them on other rocks, then looked at the changes in the animal community over time on the rocks.

Two ochre sea stars in the California coast's intertidal zone.

Sea stars eat… well, a lot of things. Lay down in the intertidal region for a while and they might try to eat you, but you’d probably have a good chance of getting away. They love eating bivalves like mussels, though. This biological action (eating) changes the physical space of the environment: mussels that are removed by being eaten leave space on the rock, where something else can now live.

When Pisaster were removed by Bob Paine, mussels took over, growing densely on the rocks. This growth of mussels crowded out other animals that would have attached to the rock if there were any space left.

Dense mussel bed on the California coast.

Because sea stars had such a strong effect on the type and number of animals present in the rock communities, Paine called them “keystone species”. A keystone species has more of an effect than you would guess based on its abundance. Such a species shapes the rest of the community in the area where the keystone species lives, through biological and physical interactions.

Here in the Cook Islands and elsewhere in the world, sea turtles are keystone species. Some species eat sea grasses, depending on and changing the structure of the environment (many juvenile fish rely on sea grasses for shelter as they grow). Others eat algae (seaweed), helping corals survive by removing the algae that would shade or overgrow the coral.

Baby sea turtles are important even before they reach the sea: a lot of animals eat turtle hatchlings, like birds, ants, crabs, and fish, not to mention cats, dogs, pigs, and rats. Some of these animals time their life cycles around when the turtles will hatch because the baby turtles are such good, reliable food.

The importance of sea turtles as keystone species is one of the reasons that PICI has established research and monitoring programs on the turtle nesting beaches in the Cook Islands. There are four sea turtle species that can be seen in the Cooks (green, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead turtles), and green sea turtles nest in the Cooks. They will begin nesting soon, generally starting in November and continuing until February or so.

If you are interested in sea turtle monitoring and research, check out the Cook Islands Turtle Project website.

If you’re a turtle researcher, you might want to read our new posting for Chief Science Officer for the PICI Cook Islands Turtle Project, found here.



McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at

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Thoughts on the recent youth debate

I (Tiffany) had the pleasure of attending the youth debate on deep-sea mining on Sunday evening, organized by the Te Ipukarea Society and the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority (see the initial TIS blog post here). I came away impressed by the event and by the youth who did such a great job, but I also had a few thoughts about what was missing in the conversation.

The tone of the evening was set by the two bright-eyed, pleasant young women who were greeting guests at the door. It’s always such a pleasure to see people who are excited about their topic and prepared for their tasks, and the students volunteering and debating had clearly put significant effort into their preparation.

Twelve students debated the potential future use of the Cook Island’s seabed resources – and they had to switch sides between rounds! In other words, if they started out debating on the “yes, let’s mine!” side, they had to switch to the “no mining here” side for the next debate. It was a nice format because each student had to know the real depth of the issue rather than just focus on one side.

The young people did a great job, particularly considering they had an audience full of mining experts attending the SOPAC conference held on Rarotonga this week!

The students after receiving their awards and certificates.

Because I’m here as a researcher and conservationist, I want to talk about how the environment was presented in the debate. Again, the young people presenting did a great job. One thing stood out to me, though: The “environmental side” was always presented as a blanket argument against deep-sea mining, with no corresponding claims of environmental characteristics that might indicate no harm from mining (except for the argument that we don’t know for certain that mining would destroy everything). In other words, rather than using specific points, the argument ran as “mining might harm the environment” versus “we don’t know what mining will actually do to the environment”.

In addition to the student speeches, we also heard brief messages from members of the SOPAC project and other mining stakeholders. While the tone was professional and positive, I was a bit disappointed in the range of the environmental considerations put forth. The students clearly presented the material with which they were familiar, and some of them listed some great points (such as concern about waste disposal after the mining and extraction process had been completed as well as concern about fish, whales, and general damage to the marine region). However, the topics of benthic ecology – the life on the seafloor, both microbes and larger organisms – and the geological characteristics of the area were not mentioned.

We know very little about what lives on the bottom of the deep sea, compared to what we know about life closer to the surface. The deep seafloor often looks like empty plains of mud. However, there is life there (even the pictures of the manganese nodules under debate show fish!), and there are hints that these dark, low-disturbance regions are very sensitive to changes. Despite our lack of complete knowledge, I would have loved to see some discussion of what we do know.

Intriguing hints of life left behind.

I would also have liked to hear the geological side of the debate. The geological and biological characteristics of a place work together to shape the environment, the resilience of the community that lives there, and the impacts of changes.

Think of it this way: in your yard, the area where people walk all of the time generally doesn’t have as much grass as the areas in corners or hidden out of the way. The disturbance (people walking) affects the community (grass, and other plants). This disturbance may be all right for grass, but you probably wouldn’t let people walk on your flowerbed. The flowers are more sensitive, so they require a different, less disturbed environment.

For another example, lettuce for eating can’t live in the cracks in the sidewalk.

Neither area is worse or better, nor are any of the organisms that live in one place or another any worse or better than each other. The environments and communities living there are different, and their sensitivity to disturbances or changes is likely also different. Those differences are good! If the world was all grass, we’d likely miss the flowers. In fact, in wild systems, grasses and flowers help each other.

When we talk about adding a new disturbance, such as a particular kind of mining activity, we need to know what the environment and community are like to be able to consider the impact. Is the proposed mining site a very active region (like a sidewalk) where another disturbance will just add a small amount to the present activity? Or is it a slow-changing place where a new disturbance would be a big deal?

So… what? Well, I’m glad the event happened! The Te Ipukarea Society teamed up with the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority to put on the debate and work with the students, and the team leaders Teina Mackenzie and Alex Herman are to be admired for the effort that they put in. It’s a great example of a non-governmental organization working with a governmental sector, navigating the political, social, and environmental considerations. I’m excited that young people had a chance to learn about and publicly discuss such a complex issue.

I think we can serve the students and the whole community by providing more information about the ocean and other environments here, beyond just fish, whales, sharks, turtles, and other big animals. The ocean has a lot in it, there’s a lot we don’t know and a lot that we do know – it can all be overwhelming at times. The event reinvigorated me to keep improving and expanding the Conservation Education products that PICI has been developing.

Here’s to the courageous debaters!

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In with the nu

One of the most iconic experiences when one comes to the islands is the use of fresh coconuts. Well, often what comes first is the first fright on the island, when a coconut falls from a tall palm and lands with a sound like a shot…

Volunteer Audrey tried nu, a young drinking coconut, at our last rubbish round-up.

We’re excited to welcome our fresh volunteers for the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project (ALMP)! In addition to warning them not to stand under coconut palms, we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned about using coconuts. Perhaps you are interested too?

As a visitor, the first coconut you’ll encounter will be young, green drinking coconuts, called ‘nu’. Once the coconut matures a bit more and the husk turns brown, the water inside is no longer as good for drinking, but the flesh has a better flavor. These are the ones used for making coconut cream.

Older (left) and young coconut (nu; right)

A wonderful local woman named Barbara put us through our coconut paces a few days ago. She taught us to use a koa, a slightly sharpened post, to husk the fibrous outer layers and reveal the inner nut. By taught, I mean she husked one in a short time with a terrific explanation, then waited around patiently as each of us battled with a coconut for many, many minutes. We need practice.

Jess waging war with the husk

Supposing you do finally get the husk off… For nu, just open one end (without cracking the nut!) or open two of the ‘eyes’, then drink away! For coconut meat or cream, you’ve got more work to do. To open the coconut, strike the blunt side of a machete or knife along the equator of the nut, rotating it to hit around the entire coconut. There will be a change in sound when it cracks, then the halves (well, ideally equal halves) should split easily. Drain the nut – in other words, jump out of the way when the water splashes out onto your feet.

With the wave of energy that comes with your success, you can now set about grating the coconut using a kana. The grated flesh can be used fresh or mixed with a bit of boiling water and squeezed for cream or milk. We’ve been enjoying lovely curries with homemade coconut cream ever since Barbara passed on this knowledge. Anybody have some recipes to share?

Coconut grater used to scrape the coconut into the bowl below

Jess and Mareike wanted to learn how to husk coconuts in preparation for their time on a motu during the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project. The ALMP team will be surveying the lagoon to create a scientific record to complement the local people’s knowledge. By recording the information, the health of the lagoon can be tracked through future changes, and people from different places or later times can learn from Aitutaki.

The project is designed as an ecotourism venture, so in addition to the science products, the goal is to spend tourism dollars in Aitutaki. As Mareike’s previous post described, that phase has already started!

The ALMP team will be putting in a lot of hours over the next four weeks, with a week of training here on Rarotonga and then three weeks of lagoon surveys and other work on Aitutaki.

But things taste best when you’ve worked for them!

Mareike enjoying the coconut of her labour

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Trash Talk: Fresh creativity using old parts

Mareike with Mary from the Te Ipukarea Society with the TIS sculpture entry.

Thank you to everyone who came to the wrap-up party and art sculpture competition on Wednesday! We saw some great sculptures and had a lot of fun handing out prizes to the winners.

The grand winner of the under-18 category with her entry!

We celebrated the success of the rubbish round-up events – we collected over 1,100 kg of waste in September! We really appreciate the support of local businesses and individuals. CITC, WATSAN, and Edgewater Resort supported us throughout all the rubbish round-ups, and CITC held their own clean-up with a huge group. Many other local businesses sent volunteers during the round-ups and/or gave us really nice prizes to give away: we had items and vouchers from Boogie’s Burgers, Bounty Bookshop, CocoPutt, KiteSUP, Muri Beach Club Hotel, Pacific Divers, Tamarind House, and The Whale Sanctuary.

The buttons on this robot were made out of juice box caps!

The National Museum was a great venue to host our celebration: they have a lovely space and equally lovely, helpful staff. Justina and her colleagues helped us set up for the event (and clean up afterward!), and I so appreciate her enthusiasm.

Justina (centre) brought in fresh hibiscus flowers to add even more colour to the party!

Sam Timoko catered delicious food for us! My favourite, if I had to pick one, was the rukau, a local dish of taro leaves in coconut cream, which he prepared wrapped as little pastries, like spanakopita.

Chef Sam

The creative sculptures ranged from a painted tree in a microwave base, a fish TV, a tiki diver, a three-stage rocket made of plastic bottles, and a plastic bag teddy to juice-box cars and a net mural… some pretty cool stuff!

This one had real sand in it too!

It was a pleasure to talk with those who attended and to hear their great ideas for next year’s event. While we hope to have less rubbish to round up next time (because we hope people reduce the amount of waste they produce and litter less!), we love the community’s involvement, and it’s great fun to see the sculptures people create.

The sculptures will be held at the National Museum for further viewing, so if you’re local or visiting, do drop by to see them!

Pacific Divers’ entry – yes, all those items were found during our round-ups!

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ALMP: scoping out the logistics

On the weekend of the 14th and 15th of September, Stephen Lyon (Founder and Director of PICI), Shaun Gilmour (Expedition Leader), and Mareike Sudek (Chief Scientist) flew to Aitutaki to scope out the logistics for the upcoming Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project (ALMP) expedition. Here’s what Mareike had to say about their trip!

Our scenery along the way to Akaiami.

On our first morning, we met up with Richard Story, field station manager for the Ministry of Marine Resources, who was so kind to point out the locations of Ra’ui (traditional no-take areas) in the lagoon. We also met with the Mayor of Aitutaki, to introduce Mareike and Shaun, and then continued on to Aitutaki SCUBA to talk to Neil Mitchel about logistics of the dive operations.

Our transportation.

In the afternoon, we hired a boat from The Boat Shed and drove out to the beautiful motu Akaiami where Gina’s Garden Lodge is located – which will be the base of the ALMP volunteers. The owners Tutai and Des greeted us on our arrival and gave us a tour of the facilities.

Tutai and Des giving us a tour.

They are a wonderful, friendly couple, and after Tutai quickly and effortlessly opened a fresh nu (young coconut) for us, she topped it all off with delicious sandwiches and a fresh papaya for lunch! Shaun was inspired by watching Tutai and picked a nu himself, but his opening technique wasn’t as smooth as hers 😉 I’m sure over the three weeks of the expedition we will all become experienced coconut huskers! On our way back to the main island of Aitutaki, we stopped to check out some beautiful snorkeling spots and took photographs of various fish and corals!

A small fraction of what we saw...

The next day, we picked up our boat in the morning and set out to spend the entire day exploring the lagoon. Aitutaki’s lagoon is breathtakingly beautiful, and once you’re out there, you really appreciate its size: it is enormous!

Motu in the distance.

We snorkeled at various patch reefs within and outside of the Ra’ui, and we also checked out the giant clam hatchery.

Beautiful as a bivalve...

Giant clams are beautiful animals with iridescent colorations – one of my favorite invertebrates! For lunch, we stopped at Honeymoon Island, where we had a great picnic near the beach! On that day, we spent about 5 hours out in the lagoon, snorkeled at beautiful patch reefs with crystal clear water, and used a GPS to mark potential survey sites for the ALMP.

Steve navigating the lagoon.

All in all, the weekend trip was a great success, and it got us even more excited about the upcoming ALMP!

We hope to visit the lagoon residents again, like this eel.

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Trash Talk: cleaning up Avarua

The past weekend’s clean-up in Avarua was a striking success! More than 60 people came to help, with workers of all ages doing their part. We had a lovely, still day and, unfortunately, a lot of garbage to sort.

Eager workers!

CITC sponsored this event and sent a large group of staff, organized by Lorette. The New Zealand High Commission and the Vaka Eiva paddlers also sent teams of workers. Matthew Rima from the National Environmental Services brought a truck to help shuttle people and the resulting rubbish around, making it much easier to cover more ground.


Pacific Divers sent a team to clean underwater in the harbour, coming back on land with tires, cans and bottles, and accidentally a baby moray eel… (Don’t worry; it swam away safely after we managed to grasp it long enough to return it to sea.)

Divers collecting rubbish

In total, 281.5 kg of rubbish were collected, 99.5 kg of which were recyclable. Thanks to Koti from General Transport for coming to pick it all up for us! We are very grateful to WATSAN for arranging a waiver of the landfill fees for all of the rubbish collected at these events.

Rubbish to sort

What we found was a real mixture. As usual, small waste dominated: bits of candy wrappers, bottle caps, cigarette butts, and bits of plastic bags. We found many flip-flops and one boot, two jackets, one umbrella, one old briefcase, two old purses, and lots of cardboard boxes (looks like somebody just bought some chairs?). Take-away containers, smoothie and juice cups, plastic straws, and plastic bags abounded. We definitely saw more cups littered here in the main town area than in the other round-up locations, perhaps an indication of tourist density or just more people in general.

Creative hats -- can't wait to see what their sculpture looks like!


What now?

Now we celebrate a cleaner Rarotonga! We will be holding a wrap-up party and sculpture competition this Wednesday, October 2, starting at 6 pm at the National Museum. Entrance is free, so come along and bring your friends!

To enter the competition, just make a sculpture using rubbish that you make or pick up from the streets, ditches, or beaches. Be as creative as you like! Bring your masterpiece to the National Museum by 5 pm for the judges to make their decision prior to the start of the party.

At that event, we will also be talking about ways to fix this problem, both to stop littering and to make less rubbish to begin with. Really, we would like there to be no rubbish to round up in the future. We’d love to hear your thoughts and share ideas with you on how to make less waste, how to teach tourists and locals not to litter, and how to keep rubbish where it’s supposed to be even on a windy island.

What other ideas do you have to make less rubbish? Please share them in the comments!

Thank you!

PICI Team and Pacific Divers volunteers



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Trash Talk

I’m sure you’re all anxious to hear about PICI’s rubbish round-up at Muri beach last Saturday. Don’t we all love to talk about garbage? No? Well, there’s less rubbish on the streets and beaches now, at least. The wind threatened to take away our banner, but some volunteers came out anyway to brave the weather. While cleaning near the beach, we also caught some of the energy from the cricket match being played at the field next to our sorting station.

Team and trash on Koromiri

The first volunteers to arrive were Bryn and Ina, who run KiteSUP kite-surfing and stand-up paddleboarding shop. KiteSUP is providing part of the prize package for the trash art sculpture competition that’s coming up – remember to build your entry and bring it to the National Museum by 5 pm on October 2!

Partway through, some of the group went over to Koromiri to clean there. Tama and Leps ferried us across on a glass-bottomed boat, sponsored by Pacific Resort (who also sponsored nu and bananas for the volunteers). The motu beaches were pretty clean, but there was some litter, and there was rubbish that had blown into the littoral forest and been trapped in the trees. Of course, there were interesting things to look at as well, like this hermit crab (about 10 cm/4 inches across).

Koromiri motu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

We were joined by volunteers from Pacific Resort, KiteSup, Pacific Divers, and other local people. Even some tourists joined in the fun! Penny, Kate, and Rhonda from Aotearoa/New Zealand generously shared some of their holiday time to clean with us. Judy and Richard, also from New Zealand, scoured the moto for rubbish even though it was their last day on Rarotonga!

After the rubbish had been bagged, we sorted the waste to retrieve the recyclable material. Shalen and another staff member from General Transport made a special trip down to the rugby field to help us load and cart it all away. Some interesting items were found!

Rosie and the boot


In total, 49 kg were collected, and 25 kg of the rubbish could be recycled.

Big thanks to all the volunteers, who put in extra effort to collect very small (like cigarette butts) and very large (like old cages) rubbish. Littering is such an easily prevented problem, but the results of stray rubbish can be so bad. In fact, during the clean-up, one of the volunteers received a minor cut from scrap tin that had been left on the motu (we hope that it heals quickly, Richard!).  Litter, especially bottle caps and other metal, can be dangerous to humans, and we all know that plastics are harmful for many animals.

We hope to see even more people (and less wind) next Saturday, meeting by Trader Jack’s! The Vaka Eiva paddlers will be starting their clean-up at 10 am. At noon, more people will be arriving: Pacific Divers staff will be cleaning up underwater, and CITC staff (organized by Lorette – thanks Lorette!) will be coming down to help us clean the streets.


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