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By Helen Greig

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 11) – A concerted campaign and strategy was launched last week to clean up polluted Takitumu parts of Rarotonga's lagoon.

The Takitumu Lagoon Management Plan 2007-08, an initiative of the Takitumu Vaka Council and the Cook Islands government, was endorsed on Thursday.

Cabinet ministers signed the agreement and Takitumu mayor Teariki Matenga met with prime minister Jim Marurai and works minister Aunty Mau Munokoa to finalise the endorsement by government.

Matenga says the plan is a valuable document that will help them address all kinds of environmental issues. He believes focusing on piggery wastes and establishing a green waste programme are key to the plan.

"This partnership between government and the community is very critical in getting this project moving. It's all about having a cleaner, better environment to live in and a clean lagoon for our kids and their kids. This is a milestone, an emotional one for me. We've reached heights we never expected. I hope the other vaka can take note of what we are doing in Takitumu for our society, our community and our land," said Matenga.

Marurai said he thought it was a good initiative and he hoped it would be successful.

The plan aims to provide a cooperative community-government process to identify the most pressing lagoon health issues to be resolved, provide technical knowledge and maintain community awareness of issues and activities, and provide for effective coordination of activities.

The initiative will be hosted and operated by the vaka council in conjunction with marine resources and the national environment service.

Other government agencies with key roles include public health, agriculture, works and tourism.

Supported by a steering committee, it also includes a technical group chaired by the Cook Islands Marine Resources Institutional Strengthening Project (CIMRIS).

This project addresses the sustainable management of marine resources, the pearl industry, tuna association and inshore fisheries. A key focus of CIMRIS is the health of the lagoon.

CIMRIS project director Geoff Mavromatis says the lagoon is a complex system and not just one factor is impacting on its health.

The government agencies also have a committee to give advice on the plan.

Part of the plan includes holding an annual Lagoon Health Day each February, putting out a quarterly newsletter, monitoring water quality in streams and groundwater, and having a commercial and domestic sewage management code of practice put in place this year.

"We recognise the overwhelming importance of the Cook Islands lagoon ecosystems to the marine resources and tradition of our nation, and to the lifestyles and commercial interests of the local residents and visitors alike. We also recognise that in making changes to things we do and the way we live, there will be both benefits and costs that, as a community, we must share," says the plan foreword.

The plan was developed by CIMRIS, the vaka council and members of the community and the government agencies involved with financial support from NZAID and AusAID.

One contributor, Alistair McQuarie says the aim is for the plan to be used by other vaka in future.

"This is an island-wide problem. This plan is community driven and everyone can do their little bit," he said.

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