AGriffith Universityresearcher hasovercome akeychallenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to leada monitoring program in Vanuatu aimingto improve the water quality of a popular lagoon usedfor fishing and swimming.

PhD candidate Gaëlle Faivre.

Coastal and Marine Research Centre PhD candidate Gaëlle Faivre had commenced her project into‘Improving the risk assessments in coral reef lagoons in small island developing states (SIDS)’in May 2019where monitoring detectedthe presence of Escherichia coli (E.Coli)in a lagoon on Efate Island.

From June 2019 to June 2020,Faivre worked with the Department of Water Resources Vanuatu and researchers from The University of the South Pacific (USP)to continue the water monitoring project after her departure.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ground international travel to a halt,Faivrehad to reviewherinitial planstorevisit the lagoon on Efate Islandtogather furtherdatasetson water quality parameters such asdissolved oxygen,pH, temperature, turbidity and salinity.

These additional data setswould be used for future research into theimpact of climate variability (seasonal) and potential anthropogenic effects on the water quality.

Jim Aimbie from the Department of the Water Resources sampling E.coli in Erakor lagoon using the Aquagenx test kit.

The monitoring program includedthe collection of base points in the lagoon and a permanent station, sotoensure data was still being collected Faivre sentawatermonitoring instrumenttothe Department of Water Resources Vanuatutocontinuetheresearch.

After multiple trainingmeetingswith the Department and researchers from USPvia video calls, theVanuatuteam was ready to deploy the instrument.

“Thanks to a great team, the first deployment was done successfully,”Faivre said.

“There is alot ofinvisible work in the deployment of an instrument;you have to make sureitis well calibrated regularly, it has enough battery and memory during the deployment period,and alsoplaced in a safe location and does not move.

“This research needed to be completed by long-term monitoring to get a clearer idea of water quality parameters variations. The aim of the program is to improve the water quality of the lagoon and establish a long-term water management plan by understanding the climate variation and potential anthropogenic effects on the water quality.”

To develop a good understanding oftheE.Colilevels, monthly samples were collected from five places within the lagoon.

From theinitialdatacollected by the team, FaivrefoundE.Coliin various partsof the lagoonatlevels higher than what is considered safe for recreationaluse.

The presence ofE.Colisuggestedamicrobial contamination and couldindicatethe presenceof sewagepotentially due to a high residence time fromnearby villages.

“For coastal water management, dataiscrucial,” Faivre said.

“The earlier we start the data campaign, the more we can collect and the sooner we can find solutions to improve water quality. This is a critical issuein this regionthat needs to be solved as soon as possibleandresearch like this will assist in theirlong-term planning.”

Theresearch‘Water circulation and impact on water quality in the Southwest of Efate Island, Vanuatu’has been published inMarine Pollution Bulletin Journal.

14: Life Below Water
UN Sustainable Development Goals 14: Life Below Water