27 Nov 2015

Cooks Govt says Muri lagoon at crisis level

8:07 am on 27 November 2015

The Cook Islands government has declared the rapidly deteriorating state of Muri lagoon a national disaster.

Dark patches of algae spreading in Muri lagoon.

Dark patches of algae spreading in Muri lagoon. Photo: RNZI/Varo Media

The Deputy prime minister Teariki Heather says the time for just talking solutions, wanting reports and obstructions to try to save the lagoon are well and truly over.

He says the state of Muri lagoon is an emergency crisis and government has to act now.

Mr Heather, who is acting prime minister while Henry Puna is in Paris for COP 21, has instructed the Public Health department to put on notice all commercial properties on the Muri foreshore that don't have compliant sewerage systems.

The lagoon has the highest density tourist facilities with lagoon tours, hotels, villas, motels and restaurants along its foreshore.

Teariki Heather says Public Health is to notify all Muri beach commercial properties that if their sewerage systems aren't compliant by April the 16th 2016, they will be shut down.

Nitrogen levels are well over acceptable limits in the lagoon, in addition, noxious seaweed is continuing to spread along the foreshore area stretching out to the almost the motu [island].

This results in water visibility decreasing, which has been occurring for some time.

Commercial properties were warned in April 2014 that they have two years to install waste water systems that meet all the criteria.

Muri lagoon is considered to be the gem of Rarotonga and the biggest tourist attraction and collective revenue earner in the country.

Our correspondent says it's been disclosed that a staggering number of commercial properties have not made any effort to get upgraded in the last year and a half.

Over 90% of Muri businesses situated on the foreshore have sewerage systems that don't meet the required standard and are non-compliant.

The deputy Prime Minister says none of these businesses would be given an extension after the April 16 deadline.

He says these businesses have had ample time to arrange installation of approved sewerage systems suitable for foreshore commercial properties.

Data collected from sea water samples taken from Muri lagoon clearly show a correlation between tourism numbers and increases in nutrient levels nutrients in the water.

Ngatangiia residents took their concerns to cabinet on Tuesday morning with a list of issues that they want government to address immediately.

Mr Heather says government has appropriated over $US525,000 into the National Disaster Fund which can be accessed to begin saving Muri lagoon.

A Ngatangiia public meeting will be held next Tuesday at the Muri meeting house for locals.