Lagoon Day 2015

“Our Problem, Our Solution” was the theme of this years’ 8th annual Lagoon Day.  The event began in 2008 as an interactive, hands-on approach to raising awareness and educating our future leaders on the impacts that humans can have on overall lagoon health.

This year, the event took place on October 22 and 23 at the National Auditorium.  Throughout the course of those two days, over 1000 students arrived by busloads.  Students, and teachers too, were eager to learn more about our lagoon and to engage in discussions on how to protect our beloved waters.

Sarah presenting at Lagoon Day 2015

Sarah presenting at Lagoon Day 2015

As a presenter, I represented PICI and educated students on the ways in which people are impacting our lagoon.  As a means of engaging students, Steve and I produced a short video showing three clips, each associated with a problem seen in our lagoon.  The problems that I intended students to pick up on were: littering, over fishing, damaging corals, and eutrophication (increased nutrient levels) from livestock waste.  Most groups picked up on the posed problem immediately and then even proceeded to note other problems that were not intentionally displayed.  After discussing each problem, I asked students for possible solutions and they gave insightful and creative answers that showed promise for the future of our lagoon.

The students enthusiasm and awareness served as an educational experience even for me!  I was excited and eager to learn more from our future leaders.  I was particularly inspired by a group of four female students from Aitutaki. We engaged in a conversation, translated by their teacher, regarding the differences in our islands’ fishing practices and culture.  The girls explained that their lagoon doesn’t appear quite as exploited as ours and suggested that Rarotonga establish and enforce more no fishing zones.

This experience reinforced the importance of inspiring and communicating with our youth. Countless students responded to the issue of over fishing with the mantra: “No fish, No future.”  It is apparent that students are aware of human impact on lagoon health, so now it is up to all of us to ensure that we protect our waterways for generations to come!

Posted in Community Events, General, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A suprising and heart warming gift – Thanks Katikati Kindergarten

Last month I received a visit from Jizzy Green, a teacher at Katikati Kindergarten. Ms Green had been in touch via email to inform me of her visit, but nothing impacts more than meeting face to face.

Ms Green had heard of our work to conserve sea turtles and educate local Cook Islands children of their vulnerability, and decided to introduce turtles to her class, as a tool to teach about the importance of waste management and good environmental practices.

Her stories about how the actions of her children were met by parents echo some of our own experiences, and highlights the power children have to play in shaping how households behave.

Parents first questioned why kids where learning about sea turtles, animals that don’t typically live in New Zealand’s coastal waters. As the children explained how plastic waste was making it’s way to the sea, and how that waste was mistaken by sea turtles for food, the dots started to connect.

As a parent it is hard not to be more mindful of your own practices when your child is setting the example and doing so with an understanding of the impacts of bad behaviors.

So with a few lessons to kindergarten students using sea turtle as her vehicle, Jizzy Green was able to teach kids how our oceans are interconnected, how our actions on the land affect the ocean and it’s inhabitants, and what an individual and a family can do to make the environment a healthier place. And indirectly, she influenced a whole community to be more mindful of waste.

But on top of all this, Ms Green also found time to raise funds for the Cook Islands Turtle Project. Something I am absolutely amazed by and thankful for. The significant cash donation from the Katikati Kindergarten and Ms Green personally will be used this season to help us conduct field research and deliver a conservation message to a remote Cook Islands community.

Thank you Ms Green, and thank you Katikati Kindergarten.

Jizzy Green of KatiKati Kindergarten presenting a donation to PICI

Jizzy Green of KatiKati Kindergarten presenting a donation to Stephen Lyon of PICI

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shark Sanctuary: One Year On

“And this, these are pa’u mango”, our guide said, pointing to a set of drums as he continued his explanation of the band’s instruments. “Mango means shark. Why shark? Because these [pointing to the drum heads] used to be made out of sharkskin. But these ones are goatskin. Why goatskin? Let me tell you…”

Last night, I attended a local island night, full of history and culture. I expected to learn about the islands and their people, but I was pleasantly surprised to also hear several conservation messages stated brightly and forthrightly. And on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary, I nearly popped out of my seat when our guide launched into a brief, informative, and sincere explanation of the threats to sharks and the importance of sharks—living sharks—in the ecosystem.

Our guide was Danny Mataroa, one of the many local supporters of PICI’s efforts to establish a shark and ray sanctuary in the Cook Islands, which was legalized a year ago on 12/12/12. I was thrilled to see him still using his influence (and time with a ‘captive audience’) to talk about sharks.

The most important part to me, though, was the applause from the audience, who whooped and cheered that the Cook Islands was battling against the practice of shark fishing. Several people even commented about it later, with the message still clear in their minds even after all the wonderful food, dancing, and music. One woman spoke to me as we were waiting for our transport, and after expressing her excitement about the policy, she asked what was being done for enforcement of that policy.

That’s the kicker, isn’t it.

Saying that sharks are protected is one thing. Making sure that no one is harvesting or harming the sharks in other ways is another.

A year on, it’s well time to be asking hard questions. Are sharks being caught in Cook Islands waters? Is this sanctuary being duly considered when considering new fishing deals with other companies who want to fish in or near the Cooks? Is this policy having an impact, and the right kind of impact? Are the other threats to sharks, beyond fishing, being addressed?

Fishing is just one thing that humans do in the sea. The practice of shark fishing is a genuine problem, and an eye-catching problem, but fishing is not the only impact that humans have on sharks. What you buy and where you tether a pig affects the land and marine ecosystem too! There’s a need for local information on water quality, prey species abundance, trophic connections and ecological connectivity. Those data are so vital for the successful management of resources.

We are celebrating the Shark Sanctuary today. We are celebrating the support, empathy, and friendship given by the people of the Cook Islands for this project.

The Shark Sanctuary is referenced in some Cook Islands travel websites, and many visitors are pleased that the policy is in place. It is important that this policy, fought for by both Cook Islanders and non-locals, and which benefits Cook Islanders and the global community, is maintained and enforced. It is important for the local and global community to know what is really happening out there in our ocean.

Thank you to Danny, thank you to all the other Cook Islanders and supporters of this conservation goal. We needed you to establish this policy, and we still need you to ask questions and stand firm to make sure that your beliefs are acted upon.

Meitaki, meitaki maata.

Posted in Shark Sanctuary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What’s up with the rori guts?


Three healthy rori… snuggling?… on the bottom of Rarotonga’s lagoon.

 

 

Walking along the beach in Arorangi yesterday, I (Tiffany) started seeing sea cucumbers that looked a little… unhappy. Sea cucumbers, called rori here, are often present on the sandy lagoon floor right by the shore, looking a bit like… well, look at the picture and you decide. They do move, but often slowly, and they quietly munch their way through detritus and algae stuck on the sand of the seafloor.

 

Another healthy sea cucumber, perhaps even attractive? This one is called a leopardfish or rori kuru, likely Bohadschia argus. This photo was taken in Aitutaki's lagoon.

They do an important job, but are often a bit overlooked or mocked for their shape. So when I saw the disturbed rori, my first thought was that some cruel passersby had walked along the shore stepping on or hitting the rori. It is easy to step on them accidentally when going in or out of the lagoon, and they can react by eviscerating – basically putting their insides on the outside to try to confuse away whatever is hurting them. I could see some bully thinking that this was great fun and then going along trying to squish all of the ‘gross slugs’. [Rori are not slugs; sea slugs do exist in their own awesome right.]

Here’s what I saw:

The pink stuff that you see here is usually on the inside… Pretty though, eh? It's likely the rori's breathing apparatus. The white might be a defensive sticky thread. There are actually two species of rori in this picture, with at least 3 individuals.

I was getting all fired up about an awareness campaign when the pattern stopped making sense: it wasn’t all of the rori within a couple of steps from the shore. There were other rori that did not appear disturbed, and the disturbed ones were found in patches along a very long stretch of shore, with some visible in regions that would not be easily reached by a casual thug.

More eviscerated rori along the shoreline.

I’m not ruling out the thug possibility, but there might be a natural cause. There were rori further toward shore and nearby away from shore that were not eviscerated, so it didn’t look like a reaction to a local change like salinity or some sort of algal stimulus.

Sea cucumbers are able to turn out their respiratory organs and/or their viscera, perhaps to avoid or confuse a predator. …but a single predator was not likely to attack the number of rori that I saw disturbed (more than 20 in a stretch of ~30 m) all at once, I think.

Surveying rori in Aitutaki’s lagoon. All those dark blobs you see in the foreground are rori.

There is a lot we don’t know about sea cucumbers (here’s one paper), but there has been a suggestion that sea cucumbers eviscerate seasonally, as an extreme sort of a deep cleanse. Waste by-products or toxins might build up inside the simple digestive system, and the cucumber might just throw it all out and start again fresh. Perhaps that is what was happening here.

Do you know more about sea cucumbers and why they eviscerate in groups?

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Giant clams – beautiful and endangered!

Today’s post is by Mareike Sudek, our ALMP Chief Science Officer. Mareike led the recent expedition to Aitutaki and has also recently surveyed other lagoons and reefs of the Cook Islands:

Imagine diving down into the clear blue waters of a tropical coral reef and suddenly being smiled at by an attractively coloured set of soft lips. These lips belong to the giant clam (genus Tridacna). Giant clams are probably one of my most favourite animals in the ocean. They have this beautiful iridescent coloration in various shades of blues, greens and browns as a result of pigment cells within their tissue.

Before coming to the Cook Islands, I had never seen a giant clam. I had admired their beauty on photographs, and so I was very excited that I would finally be able to see one in real life. This probably sounds really nerdy, but the first time I spotted one, I almost squealed into my snorkel.

The beautifully iridescent coloration of clams is truly breathtaking.

When people hear the word giant clam, they usually think about the true giant of the clams (Tridacna gigas) which can be more than 1 m in size and weigh over 200 kg! I am sure everyone has heard the scary myth that these clams can snap shut and trap a diver underwater. However, this is really just a myth! Giant clams are neither aggressive nor particularly dangerous, and the closing action of the shell is too slow to really pose a threat. While free diving in Aitutaki’s vast lagoon, I had the privilege to encounter one of these friendly giants. Its enormous size was truly impressive, and this clam probably started its life around the time my great-grandmother was born.

Mareike free diving down to admire the immense size of a giant clam (Tridacna gigas).

However, this species of giant clam is not native to the Cook Islands and is not commonly encountered, although some have been brought in as tourist attractions. The clam you want to look for in the Cooks is the maxima clam or small giant clam (Tridacna maxima). This species is much smaller than the true giant clam, with adults reaching not more than 20 cm in size (still big for a clam!). In Cook Island Maori, giant clams are called paua.

The maxima or small giant clam (Tridacna maxima) showing off its colourful mantle.

All giant clams from the genus Tridacna differ from most other clams in that they have tiny single-celled algae living inside their tissue (the fleshy, prominent mantle) that provide a large portion of their nutrition. These tiny algae cells, also referred to as zooxanthellae, use photosynthesis to produce sugars and amino acids which are released to the clam. So even though the clams filter out particles from the water (like all other clams do), they don’t depend only on this food source. This is also the reason they are so colourful! The colour of the clams is both an indication of the algae living inside and likely also protection against the harsh tropical sun, kind of like a human tan.

Another species of giant clam, the smooth or southern giant clam (Tridacna derasa), that can occasionally be encountered in the Cook Islands. Adults can reach a shell length of up to 60 cm.

Another species of giant clam, the smooth or southern giant clam (Tridacna derasa), that can occasionally be encountered in the Cook Islands. Adults can reach a shell length of up to 60 cm.

 

Sadly though, giant clam populations have declined world-wide, mostly due to over-harvesting and pollution. Giant clams have been traditionally used as a food source, and more recently, the beautifully coloured species have been sought after by the aquarium trade. Older local Cook Islanders tell stories about the huge abundance of paua (giant clams) that used to be found in the lagoon when they were children. Nowadays, you have to swim around and really look to spot a giant clam. I have only lived in the Cooks for a few months now, but even I directly experienced the huge decline that paua populations have suffered. During a research cruise to the southern Cook Islands, I had the opportunity to snorkel in Manuae’s lagoon (an uninhabited island). When I first jumped into the water, I almost didn’t trust my eyes. The floor of the lagoon was covered in paua (the small giant clam), and there were even reef structures (bommies) solely built by these clams! Seeing this made me realize how extensive the population decline was in Rarotonga and Aitutaki (the two most populated and visited islands).

Paua (the small giant clam) covering the floor in the lagoon of the uninhabited island Manuae (centre above) and even building reef bommies (above right).

Today, giant clam hatcheries exist in most Pacific nations with the intent to grow clams for reseeding depleted reefs, as a food source relieving pressure on wild populations, and for sale as aquarium species. In the Cook Islands, a clam hatchery and nursery can be found on Aitutaki. Clams are hatched and raised in large saltwater basins, and once they reach a certain size (after a couple years), they are transplanted into the nursery inside the lagoon. We saw tiny ones, smaller than a fingernail – but they were almost two years old! It’s great that these clams can be grown in captivity. However, most of these raised clams are sold into the aquarium trade.

Volunteer Audrey checks out the clam hatchery on Aitutaki, raising baby giant clams to a certain size before transplantation into the lagoon.

But as happens in most aquaculture facilities, some individuals escape and so help to reseed the diminished population inside the lagoon. Near the clam nursery, high numbers of giant clams can be found on the reef, but it is still a long way until the stocks inside the entire lagoon will increase again, particularly because these clams are tasty food for people. Restocking wild populations of giant clams will take time, some sacrifice, and a lot of work, but it is surely worth the effort!

 

The clam nursery in Aitutaki’s lagoon. Giant clams are grown on tables (above) and in suspended boxes (below) when they are small. Once they reach a certain size, the clams are placed into the sand for further growth.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Operation COT: crown of thorns sea stars

A crown of thorns starfish in a bag on its way out of the lagoon.

A purple and orange, slimy, spiky, dangerous eating machine: the crown of thorns starfish (COTS) (Acanthaster planci) eats coral. Normal low numbers of COTS are fine: some corals are eaten, but the reef as a whole remains healthy and the corals can recover. However, if there are too many COTS, the whole system can be damaged, with fewer adult corals left to help the reef recover.

COT starfish on coral (lower right corner shows uneaten coral; upper right shows coral skeleton).

Populations of sea stars and other organisms naturally vary, but human influences can change the rate (how often) and the magnitude (how much) of these variations. COT blooms, or sudden increases in abundance, are thought to naturally occur every 80 years or so, which would give lots of time for reefs to recover in between. Now, COT blooms seem to be happening every 15 years or so, making it harder or impossible for corals to recover (in the face of other challenges, like pollution).

Young starfish eat plankton while they are living in the water, before they settle on the reef as adults. Therefore, large plankton blooms favor the survival of these starfish by providing lots of food. Lots of nutrients can stimulate large plankton blooms. In this way, excess nutrient run-off from land (like agricultural fertilizers, sewage, eroding dirt from construction sites) can cause a population boom of COT starfish.

Normally, other animals keep COTS in check. Some small crabs of the genera Trapezia and Tetralia protect coral from the COT starfish by breaking off the starfish’s spines. Natural predators of COTS include the beautiful triton’s trumpet snail, a species often targeted for collection in the tourist trade. People love to buy and collect the gorgeous shells… but that collection leaves fewer living snails in the environment to fulfill their roles, like controlling COTS populations. Excessive blooms without enough coral protectors and starfish predators cause COTS to go rampant.

This is why divers, fishers and other conservationists now remove COTS when they see them in heavily affected areas.

Expedition leader Shaun free-diving to retrieve a COTS.

The Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project team found five adult COTS in Aitutaki’s lagoon, in the southern region.

COTS are distinguished not only by their spines but also by the number of arms that they have. Most sea stars have 5 arms, but COTS can have 12 or more. They’re also covered in spines, which can give a nasty sting! The ALMP team removed all of the COTS they found, using a variety of methods to avoid getting stung by the spines. Some used a dive knife, gloves, and a bag…

Some used their fins as make-shift shovels…

Chief Science Officer Mareike uses fins to pluck a COTS from coral.

And some used a machete (bush knife), which had been brought along to open coconuts for lunch refreshments.

Two COTS on the boat (machete barely visible behind). Note the yellow tube feet on the right.

The COTS were put into a bucket for transport on the boat.

Scooping the COTS into the bucket.

Once on shore, the COTS were buried. This practice keeps the biomass in the region (through decomposition) but also keeps the coral safe.

Digging with found island tools (dried palm fronds).

As can be said about most environmental issues, the problem of COT starfish is one of balance. Low natural levels of starfish are just fine, even though some coral dies for the benefit of the starfish. Natural blooms are all right, even though we can see changes in the ecosystem. The problem is excessive, unnatural blooms caused by the alteration of the entire ecosystem — when we alter beyond normal levels, we also break or overwhelm the reactions that would have helped things return to ‘normal’. Drastic changes sometimes require drastic actions to help.

Mareike bringing a crown of thorns sea star to the surface.

Local fishing clubs in the Cooks have already taken action: identifying the trumpet snail as a COTS predator and boycotting the collection of the shells as well as retrieving hundreds of COTS during outbreaks. This issue has been presented as a topic of concern by Cook Islanders, and more research and action will help Cook Islanders manage their ecosystems.

Do you study crown of thorns starfish? Let us know in the comments!

Posted in Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project, General | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A day in the life of an ALMP volunteer

Today’s post is a guest post by Jess Trewin! Jess has a master’s in marine biology and has been volunteering with PICI while also obtaining her dive-master certification in Rarotonga. Here she is describing what it’s actually like to be part of the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project…

Jess and Mareike enjoying a warm snorkel trip!

At around 6 am, the chickens start to crow (by the third week, you don’t notice it anymore), and it begins to get light outside …breakfast time! We meet up as a team around 7 am for breakfast. I loved the abundance of paw paw trees growing out the back of our lodge. You can add paw paw to just about anything, and for breakfast, that meant adding it to a bowl of porridge, which is surprisingly tasty!

It’s already getting hot!

After breakfast, we pack the boat for the day, loading all the dive gear, snorkels and survey equipment needed for the day. Dive kit, cameras, YSI, Secchi disk, multiple giant quadrats (which are extremely annoying to store), dive slates and measuring transects. Most importantly, the chilly bin, with our lunch! We aim to leave each day by 8 am to start surveys.

Jess with a survey quadrat and transect line on a coral bommie.

Once the anchor has been untied from the palm tree, Shaun, our expedition leader, drives us to our first dive survey site chosen by the lead scientist Dr. Sudek. Keep a look out for the eagle rays and turtles you often see on the way to dive sites! One of my favourite sites was inside a Ra’ui in the SW corner of the lagoon, called the Clam Hatchery, a 10 minute boat ride away through a complete maze of coral bommies that take some skilled navigation to avoid! Our tasks are explained in a dive briefing; everyone knows their role in surveying of this area.  Fish counts, invertebrate surveys and benthic cover measurements are divided between us depending on preference and the ability to classify groups of benthic cover, fish and ‘invert’ species.

Jess and a giant clam!

Everyone kits up in their dive gear with the help of Shaun (handing out all the ‘nerd’ equipment to us from the boat with huge amusement).  Mareike gets in first and lays out 3 transects on different coral bommies in the area to survey, then we all get in with our gear and start the surveying. Each survey takes around 45 minutes to complete.  At the end of the survey, we set up a permanent quadrat marked by small floats with cable ties and a GPS position in the hope that the next participants will relocate it and be able to detect changes (hopefully coral growth). We also take a water visibility measurement using a Secchi disk rolled out horizontally along the lagoon floor and a water quality measurement using a YSI. If we have time before lunch and people are feeling up to it, a second site is surveyed on SCUBA.

We then look for the best motu to explore and have our lunch on. By this time, the heat is pretty intense, such a perfect place to stop for lunch, there is also time for a quick powernap/sunbathe! We were joined by a couple of pigs one lunch time on the island used in the TV show Survivor.

In the afternoon, we drive to shallower site to do a snorkel survey. These are fun; it’s normally hot so no need for a wetsuit. Free diving around in your togs in crystal clear 29 degree water is pretty awesome! Sometimes there’s such a strong thermocline in the water column that diving down into the deeper cool water makes the top layer feel like a bath.

In the evening, we head back to Akaiami, our motu or base camp.  Sometimes we are back by mid-afternoon, which gives you the freedom to explore or relax on the island in the remainder of the sun.

A sunset game of Frisbee in the lagoon in front of the lodge.

Whoever’s on dinner duty starts to prep dinner, and we all get together to eat dinner around 7 pm, enjoy maybe a couple of beers and an intensely competitive game of Pictionary or cards!

Jess at the head of the table with one of the dinners she prepared.

It’s surprising, but after a day in the heat and surveying, which is pretty much a full day in the water, you get pretty exhausted, and by 9 pm, I’m usually pretty much ready for bed!  The generator is switched off around 10 pm, and we hit the hay!

Bringing a head torch is handy, especially since the expedition leader is likely to waiting in the dark in the bathrooms to scare you…

A group photo on Honeymoon Island, an uninhabited motu perfect for a lunch stop.

Thanks, Jess, and thanks to all of our volunteers!

Posted in Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Maintaining paradise: Akaiami clean-up

Each step along a beach can reveal new and interesting sights: hermit crabs, dried coral, beached coconuts, rocky pools full of snails, crabs, maybe an eel if you’re lucky. In the Cook Islands, it’s possible to spend lots of time walking beaches, and PICI volunteers are doing their part to make sure that the view is of natural objects, not rubbish.

Eco-volunteer Audrey cleaning Akaiami.

Our volunteers for the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project were kept active, from scientific data collection to tourist activities, from educational outreach to fun in the tropical sun. We’re really thrilled with the participation of volunteers to learn, enjoy, and help the local environment!

…even when it’s messy. On October 8, a team of 5 people collected 30 bags full of rubbish on the motu (islet) Akaiami. The team spent the whole day at it, with a lot of the time spent walking back and forth to bring the waste back to the base at Gina’s Lodge. The waste was sorted into recyclables and general rubbish, loaded onto the boat, taken to Aitutaki, and put in appropriate recycling or the landfill. The landfill waived the fees for us; thank you to Ngatupuna Ruarangi!

Rubbish on the boat, headed for Aitutaki.

The team found more than 700 plastic bottles on that one small motu in one day! In the face of such amounts of plastic on beaches, two main questions come up: Why are we cleaning this up instead of preventing it? Why bother cleaning; isn’t somebody else responsible?

The short answer is that yes, somebody ‘else’ might be responsible. The islands of the Pacific receive waste from around the world, not just what the locals produce. Littering by tourists and locals is a huge problem, one that is simple to fix if only people would change their mindset and make the minimal effort required to throw their waste in a proper bin.

Additionally, though, there is a large amount of waste that washes ashore from outside sources: rubbish dumped at sea from ships, items spilled from shipping containers, or litter from other places around the world that has traveled over the ocean for miles.

Coconuts (some sprouting), vines, old palm fronds, and plastic waste.

It seems almost silly that this long-distance transport is such a problem, but that’s the power of plastic. If we throw away a banana peel or coconut husk, it won’t make it very far. Something will eat it, or it will rot quickly. It’s still not nice to throw that waste on a sidewalk, for example, but we know that it won’t end up on an island beach far away.

In contrast, plastics are durable, lightweight, and resistant to damage – so once they’re thrown away, they stick around for a long, long time. At least 400 years, in most cases.

On Aitutaki, trucking the rubbish to the landfill.

So yes, we clean up, even though we’re cleaning up after others and even though there will be more to clean up later. Do you want there to be less to clean up? Throw less away. Tell your family, friends, and community to throw less away.

Remember the three R’s that most of us learned as kids? Reduce, reuse, recycle. The order of those words matters. We reduce first, then reuse, and then recycle as a last resort. The National Environment Service in the Cooks lists 4 R’s, adding “refuse” to the list.

Eco-volunteers Marcel and Jess wheeling waste away.

We cannot just put all the environmental burden on recycling. Recycling requires energy for transport and the recycling process – it’s much better than using all new material all the time, but it still requires a lot. It’s been said that less than 5% of the world’s plastic is recycled, and some forms are still not recyclable. It’s far better to reduce our consumption than to just expect that someone else will take care of it later.

Jess with some of the collected waste.

The truth is that there are already small bits of plastic in the marine environment that will be there for the next thousands of years, practically forever. They’re already there, and we have no way to clean them up from the sand, the deep ocean, the gyres, the guts of marine animals. It’s important for us, now, to slow and eventually stop that contamination. We’ll be talking about some practical ways to reduce waste on the blog, in an island context.

And for now, whenever we walk a beach, we take a (recycled, reusable) bag to clean it up.

What a beach should look like: no rubbish.

Posted in Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project, Waste Reduction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

ALMP visited Araura school!

Brave student Tasha trying out a complete SCUBA system.

The PICI and ALMP team are back from Aitutaki! We have lots of news to share over the next couple of weeks, so watch this space. I (Tiffany) had the pleasure of spending the last week of the project on Akaiami and in the field with the team. The time included both high points (like picking fresh papaya for lunch) and reminders of real life in the field (like being splattered with over-ripe papaya from tree height).

For me, one of the highlights of the week was our visit to Araura College and primary school.

Students avidly listening to a description of the crown of thorns sea star.

We were invited to present our work at Araura College by Rere Mataiti, the owner of the boat we have been using for surveys. We were invited to the primary school by principal Gene Bartlett. Meitaki!

It was interesting first off just to see the school facilities. The schools are long buildings with outdoor ‘hallways’, a nice tropical convenience: each room has only one door to the outside; the ‘hallways’ are covered walkways along the sides of the buildings. Most people just walk on the grass outside. The college and the primary school are separated by a large grassy field, actively enjoyed by several groups playing when we arrived. The students were as bright and happy as their uniforms: crisp white shirts and red skirts for the older girls, green pinafores for the younger girls, with the boys all in white shirts and shorts.

Students conduct a test survey, calculating the density of example organisms.

We talked briefly about coral reefs, then described some of our surveying methods. Some of the students used quadrats and transect lines in an example survey using shells and dried specimens that we had collected on the beach. When we count the species in the lagoon, we need to know not only what we found but also where and how much we looked. We keep track of the area we survey using 1 m2 quadrats, sampled along 10 metre transects.

How many dried clam shells per square metre?

We could just say how many animals we saw, but that number depends on how clear the water was, how much time we spent looking, who was looking, and so on. The survey methods show many of a given species there are per square metre of the coral reefs in the lagoon. This way, the numbers can be compared with other surveys conducted by different people in other areas or other times.

Students at Araura College try out SCUBA.

We also brought along a SCUBA tank and system. Mareike and Jess showed the kids how to use the gear to breathe compressed air, which was a big hit! Some bravery was required by the first few students, who laughed and said that the air seemed cold. Most of the young kids tried it and were pretty excited!

SCUBA regulators are pretty funny!

At the end of each of the two classes of older students, a student stood up and thanked us for coming to the class and sharing our knowledge. We appreciate this gesture, and we’re so pleased that the students were keen to learn about the SCUBA equipment and ask us interesting questions about the lagoon.

Meitaki ma’ata!

Some of the ALMP team with students of the primary school.

Two people can breathe from the same tank at the same time!

Students getting up close with sea urchin skeletons, dried sea stars, and other specimens.

 

Posted in Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project, Community Events | Tagged , | Leave a comment

See you in a week!

Kia orana, everyone. This will be a quieter week on the blog, as the entire PICI team will be on Aitutaki (3 of us are joining the ALMP group who’ve been there 2 weeks so far).

There will be lots to talk about when we return, not least about what the ALMP team learned in the lagoon. If you have questions or topics you’d like to see addressed on the blog, please leave a comment!

Shorescape on Rarotonga.

As I just learned in Maori class, there are two ways to say goodbye when leaving on a trip. Those of us who are leaving say “No’o ra”, while those who are staying behind say “Aere ra”.

No’o ra, and we’ll be back soon with more stories from Aitutaki!

Rarotonga shorescape, with coconut palm.

Posted in General | Leave a comment