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What climate advocates can learn from the oldest island in the Pacific

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Impact assessment in Mangaia highlights the importance of traditional conservation practices

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Rarotonga—Mangaia stands as one of the oldest islands in the Pacific. It’s around 18 million years old. It is steeped in tradition and oral history that befits its antiquity and the indigenous islanders that inhabit it.

Mangaia, traditionally known as A'ua'u Enua (meaning "terraced"), is a karst landscape shaped by the erosion of limestone over millions of years. It is one of three islands in the Cook Islands archipelago, part of the southern group of islands in the Pa Enua, that remains governed by traditional leaders.

Results from GCCA+ SUPA's impact assessment field trip to Mangaia in May spotlighted the important role of local indigenous knowledge in complementing tangible on-the-ground actions as an exemplar of community resiliency to the adverse impacts of a changing climate and shifting cultural values placed on their land and tradition.

The GCCA+ SUPA project, funded by the European Union, is delivered collaboratively by SPREP, the Pacific Community and the University of the South Pacific with the aim to enhance climate change adaptation and resilience within the Pacific region.

The impact assessment of the ra’ui, a traditional method of conservation and preservation of natural resources, identified its effectiveness in allowing marine species to recover between harvests.

Focus group discussions with the traditional leaders indicated that the allocated ra’ui conservation areas around the island were in good condition. However, there is still a need for greater community-based monitoring of the resources.


“For me, I have to weigh the implication of regulations on the people when considering management of the Ra’ui,” said Tereapi’i Tangi, traditional leader and king of Mangaia.

Tangi wears two hats: one as an island king and another as a government official. He is the director of the Renewable Energy Program at the Office of the Prime Minister and is engaged in different roles in his home island and in the House of Ariki in the Cook Islands.

Tereapi’i Tangi

There are three pillars of governance in the Cook Islands: the national government, village advisory councils and the House of Ariki.

All the traditional chiefs and kings of the islands form the House of Ariki, which is an advisory body to the government on traditional matters/issues concerning the nation.

The House of Ariki played an important role during the Covid-19 epidemic and lockdown of borders.

“I appreciate the reporting back of study results especially to the Aronga Mana when we talk about activities on the land. The Aronga Mana (traditional leaders’ council) have the deciding power on the island to accept and or support any project on the island,” Tangi said.

He said the Kei’a Ra’ui must strike a balance between the regulations for the management of the ra’ui and the indigenous tradition of the ra’ui.


“Are you going to punish our people or enforce as the leaders of the islands?” he asked. “Put aside the regulations and promoting our mana in our traditional power to educate our people, I believe the people will abide with the mana of the ra’ui; apply our mana as traditional power for our ra’ui."

Tangi concluded that the Kei’a Ra’ui “supports our own way of keeping our ra’ui and that it works. Tradition is working so why create laws to punish our people and use those laws to govern our ra’ui.”

He further highlighted the importance of an impact assessment.

“Impressions since the report back and outcome of the impact study highlighted the need of such a tool that gives insight on the strengths and what capacity needs to be supported,” Tangi said.

“With so many projects in Mangaia, it is good to use the tools to understand the impacts of these projects of water, whether positively or negatively to the people— for sure, negatively, due to lack of maintenance, capacity to sustain the water projects,” he added.

Tangi said the study provided evidence to support future water projects such as the Tamarua water supply system. (SREP)

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