Caution urged over Cooks giant clam harvest

A Giant Clam in the Cook Islands. Picture: Georgia Langdon

A marine scientist is urging caution over the harvesting of giant clams from Manuae Island in the Cook Islands.

RNZ Pacific understands about eight-thousand giant clams will be harvested and taken to Rarotonga to sell during the annual constitution celebrations.

The island, which lies 100 kilometres south-east of Aitutaki, is the last haven for giant clams in the Southern Cook Islands.

The Ministry of Marine Resources opposes the harvest, which has been sanctioned by Aitutaki’s island council.

The scientist, Charley Waters, has spent about 15 years researching and working to restore giant clam populations in the Aitutaki lagoon.

Dr Waters described giant clams as the “low-hanging fruit of the ocean” and said it takes a very long time to restore their numbers.

“I believe very strongly in what’s called the ‘precautionary principle’ and that is – it should be up to the people who are taking the clams to demonstrate without qualification that what they’re doing won’t damage the local eco-system,” said Dr Waters.

Charley Waters says giant clams play a significant role in marine eco-systems and any harvest should be offset by replenishing their population.

Aitutaki Conservation Trust member Michael Lee said Manuae was only a small island and the harvest would have an impact on its already depleted clam population.

“They take years and years to grow. I think they take seven or eight years before they start spawning. So these clams that they’re taking – they’re spawning clams – and there’s not a hell of a lot of clams over there now,” he said.