6 Nov 2017

Booming Cooks tourism comes with environmental strains

9:58 am on 6 November 2017

Cooks Islands MP for Titikaveka Sel Napa is calling for measures to slow down tourism, especially in Rarotonga.

Muri Lagoon, off Rarotonga, is one of the Cook Islands' tourism hotspots

Muri Lagoon, off Rarotonga, is one of the Cook Islands' tourism hotspots Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

The number of tourists to the Cook Islands continues to rise, with 2016 showing an increase of 17 percent from the previous year.

Ms Napa said the current infrastructure and utilities in Rarotonga were not able to cope with the high number of tourists.

She said the Asian Development Bank had warned that roads, power, water, sewerage and solid waste disposal facilities needed to be upgraded.

"If we don't have the infrastructure and utilities in place, we shouldn't be encouraging ever increasing tourism. It doesn't make sense."

However, Finance Minister Mark Brown said Ms Napa was misinformed.

Mr Brown said tourists arrivals had always been high and the government's policy on promoting tourism has managed comfortably to accommodate the large numbers.

"We acknowledge that there are issues around supply of water, energy requirements and sanitation and the government has been involved in the long term plan to upgrade the water system on Rarotonga now for the last five years.

"We're on stage two of our major water project, which is increasing the capacity and quality of water supply through our intakes.

"We're in program of engaging in renewable energy right across our country, so the government has taken on board the issues around increase tourism numbers to put into place significant investment to accommodate that increase use of public infrastructure," he said.

The ambassador for the Marae Moana marine conservation park Kevin Iro said the increasing number of tourists had put pressure on the environment.

But he said the government was being proactive in looking into the areas of water, sanitation, recycling and waste, but they need to move faster.

Rarotonga Airport

Photo: RNZI / Mary Baines

"I believe we're just about at capacity now, so it is a case of the government putting in these measures.

"They want to be really concentrating hard on getting our water up to scratch.

"There needs to be a reticulated sewerage system in place. I know that the phase one of that's going to happen in Muri, which is the main tourist hub.

"They really have to put some work into the recycling and the solid waste because while they're doing that, if they are going to allow more tourists accommodation to be built, it's got to be balanced."

Mr Brown said the government was ensuring the environment is protected from the increased numbers and it would continue to be a priority.

He said he has noticed arrivals were also starting to spread out from the peak to the shoulder months, and also heading out to the outer islands.

Mr Iro agreed and said nearly all the beds on the island were full.

No caption

Photo: RNZ

"It is good for the economy. It's good for the industry, but there are concerns certain people have regarding the environment."

"We're very concerned with the environment and the ecosystems that are getting affected by the influx of more tourists," he said.

Ms Napa also accepted that tourist arrivals were now steady throughout the year but she said that still increased the pressure.

"When are we going to draw the line and say, 'okay, we've got enough coming here'. Let's maintain that number and not go out and aggressively market for more and more tourists to come to our shores."

A total of 146,473 visitors arrived in the Cooks last year and Mark Brown was expecting that number to reach to 160,000 this year.

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