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Research methods and outline


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.

The Goals

  • 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.

The Sites

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 Methods

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 (Back Reef)

Line Intercept Transect - % coral and algae coverage (Back Reef)

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 Initiative.


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Duration :

3 weeks to 5 weeks depending on the expedition

Expedition Type :

Marine survey using snorkel and scuba

Location :

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Fly to :
Autitaki, Cook Islands via Rarotonga Cook Islands.
Expedition dates :
Cost :

3 week expedition : NZ$1950

Whats included :
All accomodation and meals* for the duration of the expedition
All scuba equipment required for diving
Training in marine survey techniques
All transfers to and from the airport and the accommodation lodge in Akaiami
Daily survey dives and snorkelling
Lodge style accommodation on Akaiami Motu
Weekly opportunities for community engagement
*Social meals away from the expedition base not included
Contact :

Ph +682 22450
Our office is on Cook Islands Time CKT GMT-10


Available for Skype calls on request

The Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project is a project of the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative. PICI is a Non-Profit organisation based in the Cook Islands working in areas of environmental research, conservation and education. Our philosophy is that for conservation to work it must be driven by the local communities that live in these remote islands. To that end the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project intends to use science to develop a long term data set to assist with the management of the Aitutaki Lagoon by the people of the island.
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