Deputy Prime Minister Teariki Heather says the time for just talking solutions, wanting reports and obstructions being put in the way of trying to save the lagoon are well and truly over.
“This is an emergency crisis and we have to act now”.
Heather who is acting prime minister while Henry Puna is in Paris for UN climate change talks has instructed the Public Health department to start doing their job now and put on notice all commercial properties on Muri foreshore that don’t have compliant sewage systems. He says Public Health is to notify all Muri beach commercial properties if their sewerage systems aren’t compliant by April 16 next year, they will be shut down. Commercial properties were warned in April 2014 they would have two years to install waste water systems that met all the criteria.
It has been disclosed that a staggering number of commercial properties have not made any effort to have their sewage systems upgraded in the last year and a half.
Over 90 per cent of Muri businesses situated on the foreshore have sewage systems that don’t meet the required standard and are non-compliant.
None will be given an extension after April 16, 2016, says Heather, as these businesses have had ample time to arrange installation of approved systems suitable for foreshore commercial properties.
Data collected from sea water samples taken from Muri lagoon clearly show a correlation between tourism numbers and increases in nutrient levels nutrients in the water. Shortly after an increase in tourism, nutrient levels in the lagoon spike.
Nitrogen levels are well over acceptable levels and total suspended solids (clarity/visibility in water) is 12 times over and increasing. This results in water visibility decreasing, which has been occurring for some time.
In addition, the noxious seaweed is continuing to spread along the foreshore area stretching out to the almost the motu, Dr Teina Rongo explaining that it has the perfect conditions to thrive – high nutrient levels, warm shallow seawater and sunshine.
Ngatangiia residents took their concerns to cabinet on Tuesday morning with a list of issues that they want government to address immediately. This included Cabinet acknowledging the continued degradation of Muri lagoon is a national disaster and treating it as such. Heather says government has appropriated over $800,000 into the National Disaster Fund which can be accessed to begin saving Muri lagoon.
But the DPM doesn’t want a repeat of 2011 when government was ready to begin dredging Avana to enable better water flow in the lagoon and the National Environment Service stepped in, citing EIA requirements. Some village elders were also opposed to the plan. Subsequently, nothing was done.
“I said back then thinking that if we don’t do something about this now, it’s going to get much worse,” recalls Heather.
“I was so disgusted, frustrated and disappointed. I hope now it’s a lesson learnt there’s no more time for everyone talking, pointing fingers, wait for more reports, wait for the scientists – it’s a disaster for this country and we have to do something now”.
A public meeting will be held 6pm next Tuesday at the Muri meeting house for locals to be informed of immediate plans to dredge Avana. Heather and representatives of Infrastructure Cook Islands will attend the meeting.