Biodiversity database redesigned

Sunday February 27, 2011 Written by Rachel ReevesRachel Reeves Published in National

With $30,000 to spend on enlisting the help of expert computer specialists, the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust has nearly finished redesigning its extensive online biodiversity database.

This was an allocation over and above the Trust’s basic budget, as outlined in its 2008-2009 annual report, which was tabled in parliament last Friday by Prime Minister Henry Puna (also minister of National Environment Services).

In 2005, the Natural Heritage Trust became a POBOC, and in 2009 it received $94,350 in funds appropriated by the crown. Expenses included payments to suppliers and employees.

The tabled report, prepared by director Gerald McCormack, outlines the Trust’s activities, work programme and budget for the 2008-2009 year.

The Natural Heritage Trust, established by the Natural Heritage Trust Act (1999), aims to make scientific research and information about local plants and animals available to the general public and government.

On top of modest government support, the trust also had two aid-funded projects in the year ending June 2009 – the Rimatara lorikeet project, which re-introduced 27 kura from Rimatara to Atiu, and a scheme to reduce the number of mynas on Atiu.

When McCormack was in Atiu in 2008, he and Air Rarotonga videographer Greg Parker filmed an epilogue for the documentary ‘Ura – The Spirit of the Queen’, which was entered into the 6th Pacific International Documentary Film Festival in Tahiti.

The tabled report also touches on the Natural Heritage Trust’s Cook Islands Maori keyboard initiative. In 1996, McCormack developed fonts with modified characters for macrons and glottal for use in natural heritage documents and databases.

He has developed two keyboards for Cook Islands Maori characters, which are available for anyone to use, free of charge. The keyboards will be online soon, and in the meantime people can e-mail McCormack for the characters.

McCormack’s tabled report describes a project he had been working on with Parker – a documentary on the natural history of Mangaia. The pair did some filming on Mangaia between January and April of 2008, and later enlisted the help of local artist Judith Kunzle to develop a series of animations, which give a clearer picture of the island’s complex geology.

A number of hang-ups have since delayed the project, but McCormack said his team just started working on it again in November of last year.

At the time of preparing the tabled report, McCormack was also waiting on publication of new data about Polynesian settlement patterns, authored by New Zealand paleoecologist Janet Wilshurst’s team. That report came out earlier this year, and McCormack was reading it yesterday.

He recently returned to Rarotonga from the University of Kent in Canterbury, where he was working with Professor Michael Fischer to update the trust’s biodiversity database.

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