Marine Expert Says Cook Islands Has Two Years To Clean Up Lagoon

It could be too late for Muri lagoon if action not taken

By Richard Moore 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 30, 2016) – A marine expert has says that if our lagoon is not cleaned up in two years it may be too late to save it.

In fact Dr Charles Waters says there is a small chance Rarotonga’s iconic lagoon is already beyond saving.

Dr Waters has been in Aitutaki working with people on replanting coral.

Asked by the CI News if our lagoon water is cleaned up within two years is there is a chance of saving it?

He says: “Answer to that is … maybe. Between now and those two years it may reach a point where it is no longer recoverable.

“I have to be optimistic, I would say there’s a good chance it could recover but … there’s also a small chance it is beyond recovery from where we are now.

“If we continue to lollygag around and procrastinate and point fingers - that sort of thing - it’s going to be tough.”

Dr Waters says coral reefs are disappearing at five times the rate of rainforests and more than 40 per cent of them have died off in the past 25 years.

“From a scientific point of view we can’t scream loud enough to get the point across.

 “There are a lot of excuses for why we don’t do things about it soon: They say that the science is wrong, or if we stop using fossil fuels then a lot of people will go hungry.

“Obviously there are competing economic pressures, but there are few finer examples of what can happen in Muri lagoon or Aitutaki, if we don’t do something.”

Dr Waters says the change in our lagoon has accelerated in recent years “but it is a condition scientists have been telling Cook Islanders and the government about for decades!”

“This is simple stuff. Basic stuff.

“If your septic system isn’t working you are putting fertilisers into the lagoon. If you put fertiliser into the lagoon you feed the algae.  If you feed algae you cut off sources of nutrition for the coral.

“There’s nothing terribly difficult about that is there?”

He says: “The question is we know this. A better question is why aren’t we doing anything about it?”

And adds: “But that’s out of my realm. It’s policy, and politics and economics and health, public safety and so forth.

“Kevin Iro asked me to replace corals off Titikaveka. I described it as a wasteland.

WE COULDN’T put coral back in their as they wouldn’t survive because the water quality is so poor.”

Dr Waters says there are steps that need to be taken to save the lagoon. Stopping the flood of nutrients from septic tanks into it is the major one.

Then there is keeping animal faeces out of the system, as well as reducing detergents and soaps.

He agrees the water quality of the lagoon is Rarotonga’s No.1 problem and the issue that needs to be solved first because apart from the ecological disaster it would be, it would end the tourism industry.

“You get it, I get it, most of the people get it, how come those in power don’t?

“Or they see it and are just ignoring it? I don’t know, that’s why I stick with the science.”

And science can help, but so will education and people taking small measures themselves to try to return the balance between a coral-dominated lagoon rather than an algae-dominated waterway.

Dr Waters says: “On Aitutaki we are approaching this tipping point. I’ve been telling them … it is so much less time consuming and resource consuming to prevent it happening than to recover from it.

“It is on an exponential level - $100 today saves $10,000 down the road.

“It’s that dramatic. And it’s that simple.”

Dr Waters sounds frustrated: “I am. I’m frustrated in that we have gone to other solar systems, we have stem cell technology that can restore eyesight, people’s mobility in their spinal cord, so why are we having such difficulty taking care of our front porch.

“That’s what I feel. I know the capability is there, it’s this inertia we can’t seem to overcome.

“My hope is our eyes will open to that before it is too late. That’s how I feel. I question how we can do so many great, great thjings out there,  but something as simple as maintaining our front yard is such a challenge.”

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