Plastic waste from far away polluting atolls and motu of the Cooks

Tuesday June 11, 2019 Written by Published in Environment
Wilkie Rasmussen, above, helps to transport rubbish sacks from the Avatiu harbour to the Arorangi landfill. 19061006 Wilkie Rasmussen, above, helps to transport rubbish sacks from the Avatiu harbour to the Arorangi landfill. 19061006

Oceanic plastic pollution and industrial fishing gear is a nightmare for nesting sea turtles in Penrhyn, says zoologist Dr Michael White.


So, in a bid to restore the fading habitat of sea turtles, environmental conservation society Hakono Hararanga incorporated has started its ‘Our Lagoon, Our Life’ project on the island.

Last week, 40 sacks of plastic rubbish collected from Penrhyn were shipped to Rarotonga.

The plastic collection project headed by Dr White has resulted in more than 150 sacks of plastic waste waiting to be shipped to Rarotonga.

White says: “We are a subsistence way of life, gathering food from lagoon and reefs: utterly polluted by the industrial consumer world.”

He said none of the waste is actually from Penrhyn – it has been washed up on the motu.

The project will clean 10 of the uninhabited motu and lagoon side beaches.

White said: “Oceanic plastics are an overwhelming problem and one of the top dangers facing sea turtles in the Cook Islands which are either ingested, or cause entanglement and obstruction to nesting sites.”

He said Hakono Hararanga recently received a grant from the Australian High Commission in Wellington, which includes freight to send the collected rubbish to Rarotonga for reprocessing.

Hakono Hararanga, lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen said they received $10,000 in Australian aid for their plastic collection programme to keep the island free from waste.

They had done projects like replanting trees, protecting turtle nesting places and monitoring coral bleaching, he added.

About six months ago they also shipped over batteries to clear the island completely of toxic materials through the help of WATSAN director, Jaime Short.

This coincided with World Oceans Day, on Saturday, which drew nearly 200 people out to Muri beach and the four Muri motu to do their part to remove plastics on the shores.

Short said 175 people registered and they collected two truckloads of plastic including iron roofing, piping and wood.

She said they found a big truck tyre and a tractor tyre on one of the motu, and were confused as to how the heavy objects there.

“Most of the plastic on the motu is washed-up litter,” she said. 

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