Dispatch from the Cook Islands: Akono Te Mango (Protect Our Sharks)
By KerriLynn Miller
Kia orana, and hello. In August and again in October, I had the opportunity to take my first journey to the beautiful country of the Cook Islands in the Pacific. The people are friendly and welcoming. Breathtaking beaches, clear water complete with whale sightings, and warm, sunny weather—it is hard to resist the charm of these islands.
With at least 18 species of sharks off its shores and no local demand for shark products, the Cook Islands have a great opportunity to declare its waters (approximately 2 million square kilometers) a shark sanctuary. The people also have cultural ties to sharks, including a beloved story about a woman and a shark.
As the tale goes, there once was a woman named Ina who asked Mango (Maori for “shark”) to take her to a neighboring island so she could visit the man she loved. During the journey, she got hungry and decided to open one of the coconuts she had brought with her by cracking it on the shark's head. Legend has it that this is the reason sharks have dents on their heads. The story of Ina and Mango is represented on the $3 bill, and this symbol is seen throughout the island.
My colleague Max Bello and I have joined our local partners, the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative, in working to gain public support for a shark sanctuary in the Cook Islands.
We spoke at a school, Titikaveka College, staffed a booth at the Saturday morning market, and gave a presentation about sharks to the Rotary Club. We also met with members of the government and stressed the importance of conserving sharks for future generations.