Dr Devarajen Vaitilingon
Stuart Smith
General Project Enquiries

Cook Islands Aquaculture

A visit to Aitutaki Marine Research Centre 

In the previous month, I had the opportunity to visit Charley Waters, of the the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) Aitutaki Marine Research Centre (AMRC).  Manager of the field based research station, located in Araura, the northern tip of the main island of the Pacific Island atoll.


Charley has been working on programs through AMRC for over 10 years, with the Centre being in operation for over 20 years. Its primary focus being conducting tropical marine research specific to the lagoon and reef ecosystems found around the island group. In the late 1970’s a combination of over-harvesting and severe droughts depleted clam populations in the lagoon. The Aitutaki Island Council subsequently asked for assistance from MMR in restoring clam stocks in the lagoon. In 1991, with financial aid from Australia’s AusAid program, the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources formally launched the restoration project at the Araura Hatchery.


Their charter, “to initiate and support local maritime enterprise while helping conserve and restore marine life and ecosystems in the lagoon” has brought about projects in the past such as:

-                Establishment of 4 Fish Aggregation Devices (FAD) for local artisanal fishing communities

-                Coral propagation and lagoon plantation programs

-                Scientific assistance in the establishment of protected areas and species under Ra’ui, (Maori term for protection or stewardship)


Currently, their program focuses on artificial breeding programs, tank based aquaculture and restocking of two genera: Tridacnidae and Hippopus clams. Mature broodstock are conditioned on the reef under natural conditions and a brought up to the land based facility for induced spawning efforts (via serotonin injection) during certain parts of the year that cue highest fertility in the individual.  As with most artificial spawning of bivalvia and echinodermata species, the hermaphroditic broodstock are induced to release their gametes into the water column for mixing and external fertilization with other specimens. Their planktotrophic trochophore larvae are then collected and placed in nursery raceways for further internal development and metamorphosis from larval to juvenile stages in around 6 days.


After 6 months (50-70 mm) in the land based nursery system, healthy sub-adults are placed onto the reef directly adjacent from the research centre in steel mesh cages.  3 to 4 months later, they are moved to deeper waters near outer motus (islands) for protection from cyclones. In 3 to 4 years, the clams are declared fully mature.


Since 1991, most of the clams raised from the Araura Hatchery have been sold to commercial aquarium markets as a way of funding the program. The remaining clams that were placed throughout the lagoon as part of the restocking program begin spawning naturally, and are a protected species under Ra’ui.  The specimens within a sanctioned Ra’ui in the south of the lagoon are easily the largest Tridacnidae I have seen from my numerous travels throughout the Pacific Islands and Australian tropical marine parks!


BioSys' past experience with invertebrate larval settlement cues, larval diet and broodstock maturation will hopefully help to increase post-larval survival rates and increase the fecundity success of the land-based breeding programs into the future.


In my 2 week visit to Aitutaki and surrounding islands, the relatively untouched and uninfluenced beauty of the Cook Islands was everywhere to be seen.  I can thoroughly recommend the Island Nation as a top choice of holiday destination to anyone who loves the water and tropical island lifestyle that is seen right throughout the Pacific Island countries.  If in Aitutaki, I would also recommend the visit to the Aitutaki Marine Research Centre and say G’Day to Charley Waters, Centre Manager of AMRC – a great bloke to chat to and truly as passionate as he is knowledgeable about of coral reef surrounding the tiny island group. His work could not go unnoticed without the help of his two hardworking assistants, Tuakeu Rio (Keu) and Katangi Kaukura (Joe).



Consulting was established in September 2009 and since then, has been actively working on various projects (in Australia and abroad), showcasing our success as a consultants within the sustainable aquacuture industry. Below is a list of some relevant projects that our team at BioSys Consulting have undertaken in the past:


AquHeadingaculture Business Development Projects


Aquamon Pty Ltd - Sea Cucumber Aquaculture Project

Prepared for Aquamon Pty Ltd (Mr Alexandre Legrand), Noumea, New Caledonia. BioSys was involved in the complete prefeasibility study & conceptual design for a pilot production of the sea cucumber, Holothuria scabra. The first stage 

Concrete juvenile settlement raceways at AMRC
Shaded nursery system (foreground) and juvenile raceways (background) at AMRC

6 month old T. gigas sub-adults, ready for placement onto the Centre's inner reef/lagoon Ra'ui.

Stuart Smith (Biosys Consulting) & Charley Waters (AMRC)