Marine and lagoon baseline assessment work to start in Aitutaki next week

NES has identified multiple cases of environmental impact, particularly in coastal and marine environments, related to various recent development projects in Aitutaki. NES has teamed up with the Ministry of Marine Resources and Climate Change Cook Islands.
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The National Environmental Services (NES) is pleased to embark on this project assignment from 4th to 13th March 2024, to undertake a detailed marine biological baseline assessment of the marine benthic biomes and resources (biotic and abiotic) associated with the project sites within Aitutaki. NES has identified multiple cases of environmental impact, particularly in coastal and marine environments, related to various recent development projects in Aitutaki. NES has teamed up with the Ministry of Marine Resources and Climate Change Cook Islands, together with Integrated Aquatic Solutions (IAS) to provide technical consulting services to conduct activities on environmental baseline assessments, compliance and monitoring work for the following specific lagoon and coastal sites in Aitutaki:

Group A – Impaired aquatic systems from modifications for infrastructure development:

  • Arutanga harbour and lagoon ecosystems
  • Akitua causeway and passage
  • Vaipeka causeway
  • Tautu causeway
  • Vaipae causeway

Group B – Tourist hotspots with cumulative impacts to the lagoon ecosystems:

  • Tapuaetai lagoon.
  • Maina lagoon.

The technical advice will guide NES’s decision making on environmental cumulative impacts relating to current and future infrastructure development in Aitutaki. Information detailed will provide the marine biological baseline data for the background, impact assessment, and proposal monitoring measures for long term planning for NES.

The scope of works for the technical support being provided by IAS is fully understood and will cover two main components:

  1. Baseline data collection to implement environmental safeguards and mitigate adverse impacts
    1. Sediment condition.
    2. Water quality condition.
    3. Marine biodiversity assessment.
    4. Other relevant recommended measures.
  2. Environmental impact – recommendations to meet future management actions and restoration efforts to consider any of these areas of environmental impact:
    1. Human health.
    2. Biodiversity (fauna and flora).
    3. Benthic habitats (seabed and subsoil).
    4. Marine water quality.

The marine resource and ecological assessment will utilize standard and acceptable international marine biological methods with the project’s marine ecologist to lead the efforts and manage all field activities. The marine assessment is to be undertaken using a free diving (snorkeling) and utilise scientific visual survey methods to acquire qualitative and quantitative habitat and resource assessment data and to provide a general description of the reef systems and benthic habitats/sea floor.

NES will organise stakeholder discussions, starting with the Island Government, to focus on specific community group opinions on current and long-term environmental issues/impacts on the marine ecosystem of the Aitutaki. NES will outline these plans to the Aitutaki community in the coming week.

Halatoa Fua, NES Director noted ‘We are pleased to embark on this project to strengthen NES’s capacity in environmental compliance and monitoring of coastal infrastructure development, and to provide sound technical advice for the decision-making process by the Aitutaki Environment Authority board. This is a key milestone for NES’s technical capacity development which will set a clear data collection and assessment framework to assist with its work consistently in the future’.

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The National Environment Service is established to protect, conserve and ensure the Cook Islands environment is managed sustainably. The agency is headed by a Director with delegated powers to carry out the functions of the Environment Act 2003.

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