National | Cook Islands

Climate change threatens local Cook Islanders livelihood

Coastal erosion, drought and sea temperature changes are impacting on the Cook Islands like never before.

The nation relies heavily on its marine life and agriculture to survive and a climate change specialist is now calling for education to be available to those who live in isolated villages.

Fishing off the coastal shores on Rarotonga has been the livelihood for locals for generations.

Eve and Patuku fish have always been an easy catch for the family dining table, but the changing sea temperature has meant the fish are now moving to other areas and an entire ecosystem is in jeopardy.

Dr Teina Rongo a marine specialist says, “A lot of our fish species have declined in numbers and some of them have become locally extinct, fish that we used to catch in the past are no longer here today.”

But it’s not just the marine life that is in danger.  Local families of Puaikura in Rarotonga have been planting fresh water taro for centuries, but because of sea water levels rising, the fresh water is no longer pure, putting their food supplies at risk.

Dr Rongo says, “Communities need to be educated, the focus is to raise the awareness of the impacts of climate change with the young ones, because what we've noticed is a change in mind set that is really needed within our community.”

Projects have been launched in the Southern islands to increase agriculture, and will soon launch in the North for marine life.