The newest tour boat on Aitutaki lagoon is strong and beautiful. Its owner, marine scientist Richard Story, had named the boat after his mother, Marguerite Story.
She was one of the first women in the Legislative Assembly, and the first woman Speaker of Parliament. She was the sister of the independent country’s first prime minister Sir Albert Henry – though on occasion she had to kick her brother our of Parliament for disorderly behaviour!
Richard remembers: “She would also remind him that even though the Speaker of the House is his sister, doesn’t mean that there would be some favouritism,” he says.
Sometimes she was so firm with him that Richard thought they would no longer be on speaking terms – but outside Parliament, they were close as family. “To me the boat with its strong look of agility suits my mum’s stance in her life as a very strong, vocal person.”
Marguerite Story’s dream was for her children to return to her homeland Aitutaki, and set up their own businesses – and help look after the environment.
She would have been proud of Richard; he is the marine scientist on Aitutaki and runs the Marine Research Centre.
At the Marine Research Centre this month, the big tanks are full of glittering, gleaming blue and green and gold and silver pa’ua. My three young sons gaze into them, entranced.
This is Richard’s day job. Taking out visitors on the Marguerite is just a sideline – but one to which he brings unique insight.
A couple of days after visiting him at the Centre, he helps us aboard the Marguerite and we power smoothly and quietly out into the lagoon. If anyone knows where best to see the turtles, or how to treat them with respect, it’s Story. The Marguerite is new; she arrived in Aitutaki in January, just before the borders closed. He has taken out only a handful of tourists on ocean fishing tours or lagoon cruises.
Owned by Richard, his daughter Nora Raita and her husband, Marguerite cruises are focused on marine protection.
Out at One Foot Island, made famous by countless tourist photos, the beach is near deserted. The giant trevally circle curiously as we snorkel in the lagoon. “There is so much to learn and see in the Aitutaki lagoon,” says Nora. “So many of our guests really enjoy the marine life information, and are very curious and have lots of questions.”
They also have a glass bottom boat and take visitors out through the Arutanga passage. “You can see turtles swimming through the glass below, a truly amazing experience.
“When guests see the turtles, giant trevally and giant clams, their eyes light up, big smiles on their faces, they can’t believe how big the trevally and clams are, or that they can see a green turtle swimming in their natural environment.”
This week, an academic study co-authored by Richard Story featured in international media. The hard-hitting study shows the commonplace practice of sprinkling bread in the water to woo reef fish may or may not keep tourists happy – but it is certainly harmful to smaller herbivorous fishes.
It’s not necessarily a popular finding, for dive and snorkel tour operators around the world – but it shows that Richard Story’s care for the environment is uncompromising.
“Seeing the smiles, curiosity, and amazement from our guests is what makes our day, and knowing that we are doing our part to educate our guests about the Aitutaki Marine life, and how important it is to protect for the future generation.”