‘No threat to health’ at Muri

Saturday October 17, 2015 Written by Published in Environment
This panoramic view of Muri lagoon clearly shows the unusual algae that now blankets a large area of the usually pristine waters of Muri lagoon. This panoramic view of Muri lagoon clearly shows the unusual algae that now blankets a large area of the usually pristine waters of Muri lagoon.

A leaked government email reveals higher levels of nutrients in Muri lagoon, but claims there is generally ‘no threat to public health’.


An email sent by Prime Minister Henry Puna’s press secretary Trevor Pitt to a concerned local business owner, said Puna had not yet received an official report, but there had been some preliminary findings by Marine Resources staff.

“There is no threat to public health, generally.

“Bacterial readings are elevated in the vicinity of Nautilus Resort. Water quality data is suggesting current levels of bacteria are acceptable,” Pitt wrote.

“However, there was a recorded spike back in April with an extreme reading of ‘suspended solids’.”

The government agencies had not yet isolated the source of pollutants and therefore could not point the finger at anyone specifically, he said.

The chlorophyll increase in the lagoon, represented by seaweed and algae, indicated higher levels of nutrients and nitrogen, but Pitt said these levels are considered environmentally acceptable.

“Adding to the environmental ‘noise’ in Muri are stream areas, which typically have high levels of nutrients.

“So far, we seem to be waiting on (the National Environment Service) to pinpoint pollution sources.

“ From there I except it will become a Public Health issue, should there be a danger or unacceptable risk.”

Pitt said yesterday that although there had been higher bacteria readings in the vicinity of Nautilus Resort, all levels were currently at an acceptable level.

However, CI News understands Prime Minister Henry Puna only held individual meetings with Public Health, the National Environment Service and the Ministry of Marine Resources after CI News first published local concern about the rapid growth of algae in Muri two weeks ago.

These government agencies have been tasked with presenting reports to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This leak comes after several attempts by CI News to obtain copies of water quality test results in the past week.

CI News also understands that water quality is tested against international levels, as the Cook Islands do not have a baseline standard.

International comparisons of water quality are known to be difficult for a number of reasons including differences in site selection, differences in methodology, and differences in approaches to dealing with high concentrations.

Although plants need certain nutrients to grow, nutrient pollution occurs when too many nutrients and phosphorus are added to water and can act like a fertiliser, causing excessive growth of algae. Pet and wildlife wastes are also sources of nutrients.

According to the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, high plant growth rates can alter water conditions by changing acidity or oxygen levels.

Algae blooms can affect fish and other aquatic animals, reduce the recreational and aesthetic value of water bodies, and block water intakes and pumping systems.

Meanwhile, the Ngatangiia community is taking the algae growth issue into their own hands today by pulling out the dark and unusual weed blanketing a large section of the lagoon.

CI News understands Ngatangiia leaders and representatives of Muri Environment Care met with government officials and technical people last week to seek information and advice on the current proliferation of the unusual algae in Muri lagoon.

These leaders decided an immediate clearing of algae at a test site should be carried out and monitored, with the hope of getting to the bottom of the seaweed issue.

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