MMR secretary Ben Ponia said the EU support fund will be used to refurbish the Cook Islands water-quality laboratory, recruit marine scientists and provide funding to support laboratory monitoring operations.
Ponia said a team of senior marine scientists with (PhD) level will join the ministry later this month, while one scientist is already on board.
“A total of $704,000 has been put aside over the next four years of the partnership to fund these initiatives,” he said.
In addition to this, MMR is already tapping into additional EU funding of $550,000 for technical assistance related to the Muri lagoon.
Ponia confirms that later this month there will be two consultancies funded by the EU.
He said the first team of consultants will do a comprehensive review of all the water-quality data and investigate mitigation options for Muri lagoon degradation such as removal of the seaweed, dredging to improve flushing and coral reef restoration to improve the tourism appeal.
The second consultancy will be reviewing the current capacity of the MMR laboratories to provide support for national services, including sanitation solutions related to Muri lagoon.
Ponia said that according to the results of MMRs lagoon monitoring program in Muri area the lagoon is well within safe limits for swimming and is not a public health concern.
He said the reduction of bacterial counts in the lagoon indicates that the upgrading of septic systems on foreshore has made a positive contribution to improving water quality.
However, he added that water testing continues to show the lagoon has high levels of nutrients, contributing to the rise of unsightly seaweed.
“We acknowledge the reports from the general public that phytoplankton blooms and seaweed growth is not confined to this one area.
“Our lagoons bear the burden of many downstream impacts both natural and human induced. Muri lagoon is the frontline for environmental concerns that all of Rarotonga as a whole will have to address in the near future.”
Last year in November the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) division of the Pacific Community provided MMR with preliminary options to improve flushing of Muri lagoon in order to prevent the build-up of nutrients.
Ponia said further work is being commissioned to include a fine-scale model of the lagoon depths to determine the viability of creating a channel along the foreshore or dredging of Avana passage.