From California State University Channel Islands (CSU CI), the team enjoyed Te Maeva Nui celebrations on Rarotonga before travelling to Aitutaki to conduct their research .
Undergraduates and professors from CSUCI are augmented by colleagues from Oregon State University and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (in the UK)making a total of 18 university professors and students working on various environmental assessment projects.
The group is working with the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiatives Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project to ensure the information they collect is relevant and able to be utilized for long term monitoring and management.
The monitoring includes surveying island vegetation, assessing the health of the sandy beaches and reefs, using underwater robots to quantify fish communities, and flying aerial robots to map the current Aitutaki coastlines, agriculture and reefs.
PICI Director Stephen Lyon said the data information able to collected by the group will contribute greatly to the understanding of the environment.
It is hoped this work is the foundation for a collaborative, long-term partnership between CSUCI and PICI.
The main goal of this work is to help the people of the Cook Islands better understand their existing natural resources and create a baseline with which to document any changes and influences.
Professor Sean Anderson said: “Aitutaki provides a well managed reef where students are able produce data that contributes to the management of the islands natural resources.”
His department specialises in these types of experience learning opportunities.
Researchers will be working in small teams across Aitutaki.
A sandy beach health team will be examining the sand, the animals that live in it, and the amount of plastics washed up onto the beach face.
The snorkel team will be surveying conspicuous marine invertebrates, fish, and coral cover across the lagoon.
The ROV team will be conducting video transects of the lagoon as an independent measure of fish abundance and size.
The aerial mapping team will be using two small electric aircraft, one airplane and one helicopter with four blades, to create high quality maps of the island.
All the data collected and results reported will be openly available and shared with the Government, Island Council, and our local conservation organisations.