Solutions to Cooks Muri lagoon algal bloom proposed
The Cook Islands government is planning on dredging Muri lagoon to rid it of an algal bloom it has labelled a national disaster.
The Cook Islands government is planning on dredging Muri Lagoon to rid it of an algal bloom it has labelled a national disaster.
The popular tourist spot in Rarotonga has in recent months seen a rise in nitrogen levels and the spread of a dark seaweed, causing concern about the quality of water and the potential effects on tourism.
Mary Baines reports.
"The plan that was proposed was to dredge a channel to increase current flow in Muri lagoon, and remove one of the fishing traps that was seen as an obstruction to current flow in the lagoon. The meeting was to seek the community's feelings, opinions, expressions on that plan."
That plan is also subject to a environmental impact assessment, which Mr Brider says could take up to four months to complete.
Our correspondent, Florence Syme Buchanan, was at the meeting, and says some people are concerned the lagoon will deteriorate in that time.
"What is concerning a lot of the Muri residents and business owners is for the length of time it will take for an EIA to be completed. And they say that this could take months and months and months and in the meantime the lagoon continues to worsen."
Last week, the government called the situation an 'emergency crisis', and assigned US$25,000 to help save the lagoon.
It is not known what caused an intense algal bloom this year, but it is thought calmer weather, blocked waterways and nitrification caused from septic and agricultural run-off could be contributing factors.
As a result, the government has said all commercial properties on the Muri foreshore that don't have compliant sewerage systems by April will be put on notice.
The pu tapere or mayor of Muri, Keta Williams, says overall, he's happy with how the government is tackling the issue.
"There are quite a few hotels that are non-compliant. And they have been given a time by government in which to be compliant with the Act. A lot of these hotels will probably find out what the government will do. The word at the moment is either be compliant with the Act and show you are doing something or the worst case scenario is probably shut down until you are compliant."
A marine scientist, Steve Lyon, who also runs Pacific Dive at Muri, says there's no quick fix solution to the long-running issue.
"The real answer here lies in properly understanding the issue and moving forward sensibly rather than hoping that some quick fix solution is going to work. So with regards to being compliant, yes probably should be compliant with the law regarding septic systems, but whether they can actually become compliant and at what cost and if that will actually resolve the issue is a whole other question and no body is actually answering that one."
The owner of Muri Beach resort, Paul Pearson, says the algae is nothing new and not unusual.
"It has happened almost every year I have been here in certain degrees, it's got worse, and some years it's better than others. And I think it's a natural phenomena which you get in a lagoon. I don't know whether it's because some people don't like it this year, who knows. To me, it's not a problem."
Mr Pearson says dredging the lagoon is not the answer, and the algae will dissipate in the next few months as the weather heats up.
"Dredging would be disastrous. I would definitely say it will disappear in the summer as we get hotter, it's definitely getting hot now. And the fish do come in and eat it. So I can't imagine it being a public health threat or any issues. I haven't heard of anybody with any rashes, or ear infections, or any health issues related to it. It may be more with people how they are operating their business regarding tourist numbers."
Mr Pearson says tourist numbers at his hotel have not been affected by the algal bloom.
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