Pioneering the way to marine conservation in the Cook Islands,
the ALMP is a comprehensive biodiversity survey of the marine
habitats of the Aitutaki lagoon. The Aitutaki lagoon is a
relatively pristine habitat however pressures do exist in
the forms of overfishing and runoff from the land.
The ALMP will gather baseline biodiversity data and examine
how the reef’s health changes through time. By providing
this information to the Aitutaki Island Council we will help
the people of Aitutaki better manage their lagoon and maintain
reef health for future generations.
- Gather baseline data on the diversity and abundance of
corals, sharks, turtles, fin fish and invertebrates in all
reef habitats within the Aitutaki lagoon.
- Compile data on the seasonal variations in population
structure of organisms within the Aitutaki lagoon.
- Assess long-term trends in diversity and abundance of
organisms throughout the lagoon, and utilize that information
to assist in the development of sustainable usage plans
for tourism operators and local fishermen.
- Evaluate the viability of Ra’ui (informal marine
protected areas) as a system for maintaining reef health
and increasing fish stocks for local communities.
- Monitor coral cover and water quality through time to
assess land-use and climate change impacts.
Because the Aitutaki lagoon is not a homogenous habitat,
the project surveys three distinct reef zones: reef flat,
back reef and lagoon. We survey a total of 30 different sites
equally distributed throughout the reef flat, back reef and
lagoon habitats as well as within and outside the three Ra’ui
(informal marine protected areas).
The ‘Reef Flat’ is the portion of the reef nearest
the water’s surface just on the land side of the breaking
surf. During low tide the reef flat is often exposed to air.
Because this is a particularly stressful environment for organisms
to inhabit, this zone has the lowest biological diversity
of all which we survey. However, due to ease of access for
humans, the reef flat is also potentially the most affected.
The ‘Back Reef’ habitat is just landward of the
reef flat and is generally covered by 1-2 meters of water.
This habitat can be reached by reef walking during low tide
and snorkeling during high tides. The back reef is the most
intensely studied habitat in the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring
Project because it is not only home to the greatest diversity
of organisms, but is also relatively easily accessed both
by tourists and fishermen.
The ‘Lagoon’ habitat is the deepest of the three
zones we study and requires SCUBA for survey access. It is
home to the larger predatory fish and macro-fauna such as
eagle rays and sea turtles. This zone is particularly important
as it is home to the larger fin-fish most commonly collected
by the local fishermen.
The Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project is a scientifically
rigorous, long-term marine biodiversity survey of the most
critically important habitats of the Aitutaki lagoon. All
data collection is performed by volunteers after undergoing
6 days of intensive training in aquatic survey techniques
as well as fish, invertebrate and coral identification.
1m Quadrats - % cover & invertebrate density (Reef Flat)
Timed Swims – substrate type (Lagoon & Back Reef)
Roving Diver – qualitative fish abundance & diversity
(Lagoon & Back Reef)
Coral Tagging – long term trends in coral growth and
disease (Lagoon & Back Reef)
Belt Transect – quantitative fish abundance & diversity
Line Intercept Transect - % coral and algae coverage (Back
Recruit Quadrats – coral recruitment (Back Reef)
Permanent Photo Quadrats – coral diversity and growth
trends through time (Back Reef)
At the end of each survey a report will be compiled and presented
to the Aitutaki Island Council based on the data retrieved
by the expedition. A copy of the report will also be posted
online and kept on file with the Pacific Islands Conservation