Coral Reef Habitat Map for Aitutaki Lagoon under development

Coral Reef Habitat Map for Aitutaki Lagoon under development

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Cook Islands – Cook Islands’ Senior Fisheries Officer Ngereteina George has spent the last two weeks at the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) developing a Coral Reef Habitat Map for Aitutaki Lagoon.

The Coral Reef Habitat Map for Aitutaki captures the present characteristics of the marine ecosystem which is critical as a management tool to address the economic and environmental concerns including understanding the possible impacts and developing the best options to enlarge the present shipping channel on Aitutaki.

So why is a Coral Reef Habitat Map so important?

“It shows the exact location of corals, sand and algae to name a few. This means that any development in the area can be carefully planned before it begins to avoid potential damages to the environment” says George.

“This map would be helpful to deal with problems such as an algae bloom which could become quite costly for the Cook Island government if it is not addressed.”

Currently the potential for further economic growth on Aitutaki is constrained by the limited port handling capabilities and the cost associated with the unloading of containers.

Infrastructure development proposals include widening and deepening of the Aitutaki entrance channel and Port area to allow for safer and more efficient shipping access to the island.

SOPAC Physical Oceanographer Jen Kruger says it is extremely important that the proposed channel dredging in Aitutaki is given careful consideration.

“The map will be enable stakeholders to identify and mitigate any negative impacts that may occur as a result of the widening and deepening of the entrance channel.

University Of Queensland Marine Remote Sensing Officer Chris Roelfsema who is conducting the training says that the map is based on the integrations of field survey data including underwater photos and satellite image analysis.

He says the map is helpful for the Cook Islands for a range of potential uses.

“They will provide stakeholders and decision makers with accurate spatial and functional information to better manage and develop resources as the island comes under increasing pressure, primarily in response to socio-economic aspirations and climate change.”

“Lagoon-wide effects such as changes in water level could influence the health of marine ecosystem or disturb beaches – both staples of the economically paramount tourism industry.”

George says the three week training will be a major boost for his ministry since he “will be able to develop similar maps for other areas in the Cook Islands”.

The training is a joint initiative by SOPAC the Cook Islands government and the University of Queensland (UQ).

The project is made possible through the European Union funded “Reducing Vulnerabilities in Pacific States Project” known as SOPAC/EDF9.