By PHILIP ENGLISH

The Government of the Cook Islands has decided against allowing an Australian-backed pearl farm on Suwarrow Island.

The pearl farming proposal attracted strong opposition from Cook Islanders and bird lovers around the world because Suwarrow is a national park and home to vulnerable seabirds.

A public meeting was called in a Rarotonga hall to debate the issue. Of the hundreds who attended, only a handful supported development on Suwarrow.

The next day, the Government decided against the pearl farming operation on the atoll, a string of small islets around a lagoon about 10km across, roughly 800km northwest of Rarotonga.

Conservationists feared the pearl farm operation would wreck the national park and lead to an invasion of ship rats that would put the seabirds at risk.

"At the moment there are no plans for development on Suwarrow at all," a Government spokesman said.