MP Selina Napa has escalated her calls for rules around the use of reef passages – not just to reduce the risk of death and injury to visitors, but also to protect the sea life.
“We know that babies as young as a year old are being taken out on Avaavaroa passage tours,” she says. “We know that turtles are being chased by people using sea scooters, we believe tours are getting way too close to turtles several times a day every day.”
As tensions heighten between competing tour operators, one local shot drone footage of a turtle surrounded by swimmers at the weekend. "The turtle was chased by swimmers using sea scooters,” he says.
“They then encircled it and got so close they could have reached out and touched it. I thought this was wrong.”
Already, Water Safety boss Brent Fisher and Pacific Divers’ Stephen Lyons have called for more education around swimming and diving in Avaavaroa and other “deceptive” passages.
Napa says: “We who live in the area know there is a small window of about an hour that the strong currents in the passage subside a bit, but now tour operators have been seen taking a lot of people out when the tide is still high, probably to fit in as many tours and people as possible in one day. That’s just incredibly irresponsible.”
Many in her community worry about the constant disturbance of marine life, she says. “At the rate Ava avaroa is being inundated everyday with people and these scooters, it just can’t be sustainable for the marine environment and many of us know there have been close calls with tourists getting into difficulty.”
A community meeting is scheduled to be held in Titikaveka at the CICC Sunday School on Wednesday 15 May at 6.30pm to discuss solutions. A partial traditional three-day ra’ui (ban) on the use of passages by commercial operators is being suggested as a way of reducing human traffic and allowing marine life to remain undisturbed.