Sixth National Report
Section I. Information on the targets being pursued at the national level
Number of reported biosecurity outbreaks - Target Zero Outbreaks ()
This indicator tracks the annual occurrence of reported cases of biosecurity outbreaks for
invasive species or diseases. This recognises that one of the main risks to agriculture is
biosecurity threats, such as fruit fly, that come from abroad.
Changes in wetland areas – Target ≥0% annual increase in consecutive years ()
This indicator measures the spatial extent of wetland areas. This recognises the importance of these areas to the natural environment, and their vulnerability to development. Wetlands in the Cook Islands include freshwater marshes and swamps, freshwater lakes, mountain streams and tidal salt marshes.
This indicator and target is taken from the Cook Islands National Sustainable Development Plan 2016 - 2020.
The NSDP integrated the thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams of a broad cross- section of Cook Islands society, both in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua. It is the culmination of many community based consultations, brain storming and focus group sessions, perusing past reports, and numerous public, private and community sector meetings to review our progress on the NSDP 2007-2010 and NSDP 2011-2015 to formulate this NSDP 2016-2020.
Areas of land protected – Target ≥0.5% annual increase, or consecutive years of increase ()
This indicator measures the spatial extent of land which is protected. It recognises that there are areas of land which warrant specific protection from inappropriate use or development due to their significant environmental or cultural values.
Biodiversity Loss – Target Increase or no change in the prevalence of endangered species ()
This indicator monitors key endangered species which are valued for their contribution to
biodiversity. The Cook Islands has many endangered and endemic species, and chooses three threatened species as case studies - Kākerōri, Tamanu, and Pa'ua.
State of the Reef - Target Statistically significant improvement; or consecutive years of improvement ()
This indicator measures the percentage of live coral cover as a sign of reef health.
Areas of protected Exclusive Economic Zone – Target 10% ()
This indicator measures the extent of marine protected areas as a percentage of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The total area of the Cook Islands EEZ is 1,997,000km2.
Percentage of yield against sustainable benchmarks – Target Below Maximum Economic Yield ()
This indicator measures the reported catch of licensed fishing vessels against 'sustainable limits' established by the South Pacific Community ('SPC'). This acknowledges the use of ocean resources for economic benefits while recognising the need to ensure the sustainability of commercial fishing practices within Cook Island waters.
This indicator and target is taken from the Cook Islands National Sustainable Development Plan 2016 - 2020 and is related to SDG Indicator 14.4.1 Proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels.
Lagoon Water Quality – Target Average A-B grade for bacteria levels, water clarity and nutrient levels ()
This indicator assesses lagoon water quality. This recognises that lagoon health is at risk from unsustainable land use practices and poor management of lagoon areas.
Lagoon water quality is assessed on Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Manihiki based on three main variables - bacteria levels (most probable number per 100 ml), water clarity (total suspended solids in mg/L) and nutrient levels (score out of 100). The indicator is an average of the grades given to the variables across the test sites. Average grades are assessed based on the pre-defined grading system using a six level scale with 'A' the best score and best outcome, and 'F' the worst. Tests are on the three islands (Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Manihiki) due mainly to tourism on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and the pearl industry in Manihiki.
Section II. Implementation measures, their effectiveness, and associated obstacles and scientific and technical needs to achieve national targets
Develop a programme to survey and conserve all endemic flowering plants and other endangered native flowering plants
The number and variety of endemic plants and endangered plants makes it difficult to report comprehensively on the state of each species in the Cook Islands. There is little information available on many species thus a few species will be reported on.
An assessment was conducted on three endemic species of flowering plants on the island of Mitiaro. The assessment was carried out on Prichardia mitiaroana, Santalum insulare and Tetramolopium mitiaroense. The aim of the assessment was to better understand the population density and distribution of these three endemic species and ensure their habitats are conserved. The island of Mitiaro is unique and the need to conserve these endemic plants are critical for the Cook Islands.
Progress has been achieved by working with communities to conduct some of the surveys.
An informal survey of Te Vaakauta in the Turangi Valley has revealed 3 more Cyrtandra rarotongensis (Critically endangered IUCN) plants that had not been previously mapped.
Informal surveys suggest that nationally endangered (CIBED) native trees such as Grewia crenata and Pisonia umbellifera have a wider than previously thought dispersed distribution.
Only some of the endemic and endangered flowering plants were surveyed therefore it is only partially effective.
Funding: Adequate national funding to conduct surveys of endemic and other endangered flowering plants are limited
Extend the flowering plant programme (above) to include other types of plants that are endemic or native and endangered.
Vegetation and native species surveys were conducted on some of the islands of the Cook Islands. This is the first time such surveys were carried out with the key purpose to generate baseline information on the abundance and distribution of these plant species for future assessments.
Pandanus (Pandanus arapepe) is a native species that is endemic to the islands of Atiu and Mauke in the Cook Islands. The Pandanus is only found within areas of makatea (raised limestone rock) which encircle each island. On one of the islands Pandanus arapepe grows alongside one of the common species of pandanus. Information collected will be used as reference for future assessments.
Community consultation was carried out to assist with the survey work, to identify sites where the pandanus is found.
Drones were used to survey sites that was difficult to access and to take an aerial photo of the site. The number of plants were recorded in a 10m radius. GPS points were taken at each 100m distance along a transit line of 400m. Other plant species where also noted within the 10m radius.
The community was consulted on their knowledge of where these plant species are located around their island.
Nga-Pu-Toru Pandanus Assessment
Funding: NES is dependent on GEF funded projects to carryout surveys and assessments. These projects conduct surveys only for species listed in the project documents and for only the life of the project
Geographic Distribution: the scattered distribution of the islands of the Cook Islands makes travelling a challenge where access are by boat that rarely travel to these island. Also timing of best time to travel needs to be considered
Develop a programme to survey and conserve the rarer plants used in herbal medicine (vai räkau).
There has been no survey on rarer plants used in herbal medicine in the last four years. However, the Ministry of Agriculture has established a number of crop bank facilities in the outer islands for the main purpose to conserve traditional food crops including medicinal plants. The ministry saw the importance of medicinal plants to improve livelihoods on these islands.
Habitat: Not all medicinal plants can be taken into crop banks. Some medicinal plants have specific environment requirements to grow.
Awareness: Only herbal practitioners are interested in medicinal plants thus the need for community awareness on the importance of medicinal plants
Develop a programme to survey and conserve endemic animals and rare native animals, covering mammals, birds, and other animals.
It is difficult to conduct a comprehensive assessment of endemic animals and native animals in the Cook Islands. This report updates on work undertaken with key species in the reporting period.
Kakerori (Rarotonga flycatcher - Pomarea dimidiata)
The Rarotonga flycatcher is now present on two islands Rarotonga and Atiu. Ten young Rarotonga Flycatcher were transferred to Atiu in 2001 and another 10 young birds were transferred for the next two years making it a total of 30 birds. A rapid survey of the bird was conducted in 2018 and found a minimum of 123 birds however it was found this figure was low because it seems that the majority of the birds could be living in inaccessible makatea areas. (H Robertson et al - 2020).
A Takitumu Conservation Area Management Plan 2020-2030 has been developed with a number of recommendations to support the ongoing management and operations of the TCA and the Kakerori programme.
Kopeka (Atiu Swiftlet – Aerodramus sawtelli)
The Atiu swiftlet (Aerodramus sawtelli), known locally as the kopeka, is endemic to the island of Atiu within the Cook Islands, is listed under the IUCN Red List as ‘Vulnerable’ and is considered a key terrestrial species for conservation activities.
There have been no updated kōpeka population surveys were conducted since the 2012/13 survey of 416 individuals. In 2016 -2017, estimated population numbers were around 600 adults, though this figure may not be accurate due to methodology used. The population is overall considered stable but in need of conservation support.
Tanga’eo (Mangaia Kingfisher - Todiramphus ruficollaris)
The Mangaia Kingfisher is one of the eight threatened land bird species identified within the Cook Islands. The baseline population data identified in 2015 under the Ridge to Reef Project was estimated at around 1000 individuals. Since 2015, the R2R project has contributed to projects that have supported the activities of a recently formed Site Support Group (included in the Mangaian Forest Ecosystem Restoration Plan) to assess threats towards the species (including nest damage from Myna birds (Acridotheres tristis), habitat degradation from the spread of invasive plants species, and habitat destruction from the spread of agriculture) as well as developing a strategic plan to address those threats.
The most recent population surveys completed in 2019 found Tanga’eo population numbers were recorded at 4,106, a 400% increase over previous estimates over a four-year period (Thacker 2019), possibly due to the increase in available habitat following the regeneration of forests previously used for pineapple cultivation. The population increase suggests that no further human intervention is needed.
Coconut crab (Birgus latro)
Coconut crab survey was conducted on two islands, Palmerston in 2018 and Takutea in 2019. The survey consisted on transect lines running across each of the islets with baits laid at 30 to 40 metres intervals. Crabs found along and on the bait were caught, measured, tagged and released. The thorax length of the crab was measured, its sex and whether the female was carry eggs were also recorded.
The average catch per unit effort for Palmerston Island was 0.84 crabs per bait while the average transect density was 4.56 individuals per acre. (Kora et al - 2020) It is estimated the crab population for the Island of Palmerston is 5367crabs however it is important to note that the viability of the data collected are taken into account, thus the actual population size for the island of Palmerston could be anywhere between 3086 and 7644 crabs. Therefore, average size for coconut crabs on Palmerston can be considered relatively healthy
There are four species of sea turtles known to use Cook Islands waters, Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).
Palmerston Atoll is one of the most important nesting site in the Southern Group. Egg-laying occurs on most motu (islets) during the Austral summer and is definitely seasonal. In 2012 the non-nesting period was 183 days (20th April-20th October). Estimated nesting effort is about 100 nests per annum (White 2012) and foraging green turtles and a small number of hawksbills are present in the lagoon and on outer reef.
The island of Manihiki has the fewest nests due to its challenging geology, while Rakahanga has good nesting beaches but these are rarely used (White 2019) and Suwarrow an uninhabited island support turtle nesting where hawksbills have been seen in its lagoon.
The other Southern Group islands (Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro & Takutea) have occasional nesting, depending on the availability of sand or coral gravel and suitable access from the sea.
The Ministry of Marine Resources has recently incorporated a turtle nesting survey protocol into island nearshore marine species assessments, provided the geology of a particular island is appropriate for turtle nesting, and was most recently undertaken on Palmerston, Manuae, Takutea and some motu in Aitutaki. General results suggest that November might be a peak nesting season (at least in Manuae) and all observed nests and tracks appear to be of green turtles. Results of these surveys are reported back to communities and stakeholders with management recommendations made if and when appropriate.
Coconut crab assessment
The sampling design for the assessment of coconut crab involved a combination of three complementary methods, including baited stations, transects and mark and recapture.
Nearshore Species Assessment (Marine)
Turtle Program on Tongareva Atoll (Penrhyn Island) by Michael White
Tongareva Atoll (09º South; 158º West) is the most important sea turtle habitat in the central South Pacific (White 2012, 2014, 2016, 2020; White et al 2020). It has year-round juvenile development (green turtle Chelonia mydas); frequent mating, and, very unusually, year-round nesting: eggs have been laid in every month since August 2014 (Table 1, White et al 2020). In most rookeries around the world nesting is distinctly seasonal, occurring only in the summer months. The main nesting beach is on an uninhabited motu (Mangarongaro): the nestable area is 8 km long and a few metres wide; it is highly dynamic; some years all the sand is stripped away but at present it is deep. In some years waves reach the back of the beach, so turtles go into the forest to lay their eggs. Predators are absent (there are some feral pigs, but no nest has been disturbed since 2010). In-water visibility is usually poor due to suspended sediment. Only 5 hawksills has been seen on Tongareva Atoll since 2012.
Thacker, T. 2019. The Mangaia Kingfisher: A study of population size and reproductive success. Wildlife Management Report: 327. University of Otago: Dunedin
Funding - Reliance on donor-funded programs to complete necessary national programs
Coverage - Most programs covers some of the islands and not all islands of the Cook Islands
Develop a programme to survey and conserve marine animals harvested for food or financial gain.
Surveys have been carried out between 2017 -2019 for the islands of Aitutaki, Manuae, Atiu, Takutea, Palmerston, Mitiaro, Mangaia, Manihiki and Rarotonga to assess finfish, invertebrates and nearshore marine environment with mixed results. Regular monitoring and surveying of finfish, invertebrates, coral reefs and species of concern are utilized to identify the need for management intervention or protection.
Humphead wrasse were recorded in healthy densities in Aitutaki during the 2017 Aitutaki and Manuae Marine Assessment. These densities were significant and near the highest densities recorded in published literature.
Comparisons of historical and current surveys have identified significant population decline of Tridacna spp on the islands of Aitutaki, Palmerston, Manihiki and Manuae. Populations on Rarotonga, Atiu, Rakahanga, Pukapuka, Mauke and Mitiaro remain relatively stable, though at very low densities.
In ensuring Tridacna spp populations can recover and thrive, management measures are needed to ensure biodiversity conservation and ecosystem resilience. In 2020, the Cook Islands authorised the removal of Non Detrimental Findings for Tridacna spp to no longer certify the export of this species until populations recover sufficiently.
Research into the genetics of Tridacna spp from several southern group islands is underway with multiple surveys and sampling carried out to identify relatedness, structure and diversity. The collection of genetic material will be used to inform management decisions regarding coral reef habitats and conservation. The development and dissemination of brochures on giant clams are also helping to raise awareness of the situation and seek community support for management.
Nearshore Invertebrate and finfish assessments by Ministry of Marine Resources.
- Morejohn. K., Ainley, L., & Kora, J., (2019) Aitutaki and Manuae Assessment Nearshore Marine Assessment, Ministry of Marine Resources, Ridge to Reef Project, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands. Aitutaki and Manuae Nearshore Marine Assessment 2019.pdf
- Morejohn. K., Ainley, L., & Kora, J., (2017) Aitutaki and Manuae Nearshore Invertebrate & Finfish, Ministry of Marine Resources Internal Report, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands.
- Morejohn. K., Ainley, L., & Kora, J., (2018) Mangaia Nearshore Invertebrate & Finfish, Ministry of Marine Resources Internal Report, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands.
- Kora, J., Ainley, L., & Morejohn. K., (2018) Mitiaro Nearshore Invertebrate & Finfish, Ministry of Marine Resources Internal Report, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands. Mitiaro Report Nearshore Invertebrate and Finfish Assessment 2018.pdf
- Kora, J., Ainley, L., & Morejohn. K., (2019) Atiu and Takutea Nearshore Marine Assessment, Ministry of Marine Resources Internal Report, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands. Atiu and Takutea Nearshore Marine Assessment 2019.pdf
- Ainley, L., & Morejohn. K., (2019) Palmerston Nearshore Marine Assessment, Ministry of Marine Resources, Ridge to Reef Project, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands. Palmerston Nearshore Marine Assessment 2018.pdf
- Kora, J., Ainley, L., & Morejohn. K., (2019) Manihiki Nearshore Marine Assessment, Ministry of Marine Resources, Ridge to Reef Project, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands. [unpublished]
- Ministry of Marine Resources (2020) An ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM) the large pelagic fishery, Cook Islands. CI-EAFM-comm-pelagic-fishery-FINAL-24-March-2020.pdf
- Te Kaveinga Nui: The National Sustainable Development Plan 2016-2020 - 2017 Indicator Report (2019), Office of the Prime Minister, Government of the Cook Islands, Cook Islands
- Advisory Note – Pā’ua Population status and CITES, 2020, Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands.
Develop a programme to survey and conserve the rarer varieties of Wetland Taro (Taro), Coconut Palm (Nū), and other traditional agro-varieties and agro-species
The Ministry of Agriculture has been responsible for the conservation of rarer varieties of taro, coconut palm and other traditional agro-varieties. The Ministry has maintained a collection of agricultural crops and has established crop banks on some of the outer islands.
Taro breeding program
The Ministry of Agriculture - Taro Research Division continue to breed new varieties of taro resistant to taro leaf blight. More than 40 varieties of swamp taro was harvested in 2020 for assessment. The assessment includes the eating and taste quality of the taro. The best quality will be sent to the outer island crop banks for conservation and for food security.
Coconut tree assessments were carried out on Atiu in 2016 which found that new coconut trees were struggling to grow due to competition with other trees such as Acacia mangium and that the coconut trees were struggling with infestations of stick insects. Ongoing monitoring is needed to assess the trend of infestation as well as impact of Acacia for management actions.
In 2019, efforts were made to collect the different varieties of banana on Rarotonga and Aitutaki as part of a collection campaign for duplication at the International Transit Centre which houses the largest collection of bananas, managed by Biodiversity International. In the case of an original variety identified as not safety duplicated at the ITC, suckers were collected and descriptions for characterization taken. In total, 18 accessions were collected and the mission was a success however ex-situ conservation of these traditional banana varieties may not be sufficient to safeguard the diversity. Local initiatives to boost the use of traditional banana varieties in the Cook Islands is necessary to make sure they survive and are utilised. Several education and awareness student programmes by NGOs have begun to incorporate the importance and use of these traditional banana varieties to Cook Islands cultural practice in their activities.
Surveys of coconut trees
Sample collection of banana varieties
Resources: available resources to improve plant material
Develop a programme to survey and conserve the rarer animals of agriculture and home
Livestock (pigs, goats & chickens) quality in the Cook Islands has degraded over the years due to in-breeding. (per.com: T Tairi). The ministry is looking at reverse breeding to improve livestock quality and the genetic makeup of the animal.
Resources: available resource to conduct training to improve the quality of animals
Farmers: Some farmers are not willing to share their good stock with other farmers
Develop a programme involving all islands to survey invasive species in natural ecosystems and in the agro-ecosystem
A list of priority invasive species for each of the islands was developed in the National Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan 2019.
Surveys have been conducted on invasive species including Leaf miner on Rarotonga, and ant species on Aitutaki. The Ministry of Agriculture has continued to carry out a number of monitoring and surveillance programmes for identified invasive species such as fruitfly as well as to identify outbreaks and unknown species. Previously unknown invasive species have been identified through survey and updated in the CI Biodiversity Database.
Monitoring and surveillance programs help with identifying outbreaks and effectiveness of control or eradication measures so it is effective in achieving national targets for outbreaks. However in terms of implementation of this element of the NBSAP, regular surveys and monitoring is needed to identify priority invasive species across all islands for action.
Data quality: the quality of the list provided may have been the view of one person and not of the whole community
Funds: Without funding these priority species will not be addressed
Develop a community-based programme to eradicate those invasive weeds and animal pests that are not yet widespread on particular islands.
Rat eradication program on Suwarrow Island
In 2018 a rat eradication program was conducted on the island of Suwarrow. This is the third attempt to remove the persistent invasive rodent from the island since 2003. It was unknown why an incursion of rats on Suwarrow after the 2013 eradication however a few suggestions are that the 2013 eradication program only covered some of the islands and there was heavy rainfall during the eradication program which could have impacted the baits.
To prevent further re-occurrence of rats on the island, a Biosecurity Plan was developed highlighting risk pathways, surveillance measures, tasks required to minimize re-invasion and a response plan. All domestic ships sailing to Suwarrow Island are pesticide sprayed as well as rat baits set around the ship.
Continuous monitoring for the presence of rat on the island is monitored by Suwarrow Rangers and in 2019 there has been no record of rat presence on the island.
Red passionfruit on Mauke
On-going monitoring of this invasive weed on Mauke has been conducted since 2007. There have not been any sightings of mature plants in the last three years. continuous work to kill off germinating dormant seeds are being continuously carried out.
Mynah Bird Eradication Program on Atiu
Mynah bird eradication program has been an on-going program since 2009 aiming to reduce and eventually eradicate mynah birds from the island to improve the productivity of endemic and native birds on the island. The program was initiated by the Natural Heritage Trust and the continuous monitoring and control program was conducted by volunteers and the Atiu community.
The program using a combination of poisoning, trapping and shooting over 10years has brought bird numbers down to the last one or two birds.
The endemic and native birds have increased in numbers and can be seen around the homes and the island.
Rats eradication program on the Island of Suwarrow
The eradication program was conducted by using rodenticide containing brodifacoum in a composite cereal green dyed pellet that was hand-broadcasted at 25 meters’ interval along a transect line. Each transect line was 20 meters apart. Rat baits were applied at ten days apart. Continuous monitoring for the presence of rat on the island is monitored by Suwarrow Rangers
Funds: without additional funding other important invasive weeds and animal pest will not be controlled
Monitoring: on-going consistent efforts are needed to ensure weeds and pests are destroyed
Develop a national programme to assist with the control of more serious invasive weeds & animal pests in natural and man-modified ecosystems
Six biocontrol agents have been intentionally introduced to the Cook Islands to prevent the spread of six invasive weed that have serious negative impact to natural forests and/or agriculture.
Prior to the importation of these biocontrol agents, risk assessment to determine the host range of the species was conducted. Before any of these biocontrol agents are released an (EIA) Environment Impact Assessment was conducted and approval sort from the Environment Authority. Once these agents are brought into the country awareness programs are carried out to educate the community about the benefits of the biocontrol agent. Most of these biocontrol agents are released on Rarotonga only where target invasive species are located.
Monitoring of these six release bio-agents at over 20 sites is ongoing with consideration being given to extending this programme to the outer islands and Pacific region. EIAs for the importation and release of a further 2 bio-agents has been approved however implementation has been delayed due to COVID-19.
Undertake a multisectoral review of the control of transboundary and inter-island movement of terrestrial and marine plants and animals, and of LMOs/GMOs (Living Modified Organisms / Genetically Modified Organisms), with a view to establishing an independent Biosecurity Agency
Strengthening of the Biosecurity office and staff has been ongoing, including in identification, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement. Consideration of LMOs and GMOs has not been integrated into action or workplans and is currently under review as part of the development of a National Environment Policy.
A National Strategy on Aquatic Biosecurity for the Cook Islands was developed to serve as a ‘roadmap’ for setting national standards for: 1) controlling possible biological risks in aquatic environments, such as the risk of pathogens and invasive species; 2) regulating imports and exports of live aquatic organisms and their products; 3) improving disease management of aquatic organisms, and 4) building national capacities and infrastructures on aquatic biosecurity.
- Biosecurity awareness and capacity building trainings conducted on some of the islands
- appointment of Biosecurity officers to monitor movement of terrestrial and marine invasives
Geographic distribution -
Capacity building - cost of bringing officers from islands are expensive. Some of the officers needs upskilling to bring then up to speed with new requirements
Establish an independent Suwarrow National Park Authority to administer the Cook Islands’ only national park on behalf of all the major stakeholders. A management group with the responsibility to conserve the atoll’s wildlife, and to monitor and control revenue-generating activities
No progress made on action. Changes are being looked at for Suwarrow National Park.