Muri restoration efforts backed by United Nations

UN resident co-ordinator for Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau, Simona Marinescu, and her team from the organisation’s Development Programme met with Muri Environment Care representatives on Wednesday, for a progress report on an initiative to improve the health of streams feeding into the lagoon.

“At this time in the life of our planet, when the environment is suffering so badly, to have ideas and efforts and passion and the willingness to scale up programmes is critical,” Marinescu said.

“This is a great project. I’m quite impressed to see so much passion behind reviving those native species, and also educating everybody in the Cook Islands.”

The UN previously granted the Muri restoration group US$50,000 through its Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, which provides resources for environmental conservation and education. The grant is being delivered in increments up to September this year.

“Beyond the lifespan of this GEF Small Grants Programme, I could see them applying for larger financing forms that we have in the United Nations,” Marinescu said.

Restoration ecologist Brennan Panzarella, of Muri Environment Care, said much of the money the UN had granted the group so far had not yet been spent.

“We’ve gotten this far spending very little money at all,” Panzarella said. “We’re just taking our time, making sure it’s well-spent.”

He said the funding was going towards a project working with landowners to determine what type of vegetation would best benefit them, growing those plants at the group’s nursery in Turangi and sowing them along streams, with the belief this was the most sustainable method.

A pilot of the project was already under way, vetiver grass supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture having recently been planted along a stream bank in Parengaru.

Meanwhile, at the nursery, they were growing a multitude of plants and working or improving their “efficiency, survival, and growth rates”, Panzarella said.

“We want to do right by other species, not just humans but birds, and eels, and fish, and all kinds of native species that are supported by plants.”

Improving visitor and volunteer experiences was another goal of the project, Panzarella said.

“We’re trying to build community around this effort,” he said.

“We’re trying to turn this (nursery) into a beautiful education space for exploration, for people of all ages to learn more about native species. We’re learning all the time ourselves.”

Muri Environment Care chair Mii Kauvai said the “dream” was to give visitors to the nursery fruits and herbal teas grown through the project.

Group member Jamie Short said their efforts began after an “algae outbreak”, in which “this big patch or blanket of algae grew quite aggressively throughout Muri Lagoon and also Titikaveka”.

Investigations pointed to inadequate septic systems as the primary reason, while run-off into the streams was another contributing factor.

Marinescu planned to invite the Muri team to speak and exchange ideas about conservation with other countries in the region and beyond, to build on academic partnerships.

“Universities are trying to ensure that they prepare professionals to be able to work in the field, and those professionals are quite interested in learning from the field, so that is something we do quite often,” Marinescu said.

While the Cook Islands is not a member of the United Nations, the country has partnered with a number of agencies within the global organisation.

“We have worked here for many years. Actually, our first Development Programme in the Pacific was launched in the Cook Islands in 1982,” Marinescu said.

“We delivered, over the past five years, programmes of up to US$28 million here in the Cook Islands, across all sectors – from climate, environment, gender equality, basic services, and Government.”

During her trip to the Cook Islands, Marinescu’s team was also paying a visit to Civil Society Organisations, disability advocates, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, among others.

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