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Scoping micro-level environmental indicators for application in the Cook Islands

McGrath, Mark C.
Fields of Research
The purpose of this research is to scope a set of local, community-based, micro-level environmental indicators for application in the Cook Islands to ensure the sustainable development of projects and activities. The scoping of micro-level environmental indicators specific to the Cook Islands is influenced by the need to identify and manage environmental impacts that are relevant, community based, site-specific in a timely manner. As the impacts of development activities are not always predictable or obvious; some impacts may be indirect or a result of cumulative effects, and therefore a requirement to monitor and evaluate development activities and impacts in the short-term is sought. This is in contrast to macro, higher-level indicators, which have been largely developed by multi-national or global agencies (FAO, UNDP, ADB) and are often monitored and evaluated by donor or other outside agencies, providing historical data or information. A broader context about sustainable development and environmental governance in the Pacific is provided and identifies key challenges in managing fragile environments. A Fiji Islands case study is presented to gain insights for integrating traditional environmental management into micro-level indicator development. Micro-level indicators are proposed to encourage community participation in local people managing their environment and to complement higher-level indicators to progress sustainable development. Qualitative measures are valued in being able to identify local issues and measure their impacts. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E), a core process within Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is explored to encourage management and progress towards sustainable development. The role of criteria to develop quality indicators and the role of themes and sub-themes is introduced to provide a context for managing potential impacts which a community or project has identified. Analysis regarding common criteria to strengthen indicator development is presented and the findings used to guide proposed indicators as a result of field work and the critique of a current water project in Rarotonga. Fieldwork is undertaken in the Cook Islands and a local project, the Takuvaine Water Catchment Management Plan (TWCMP) is critically evaluated. Site visits, key informant interviews and a review of local literature provide sufficient background to propose a set of themed micro-level indicators to enable the project committee and community to measure the success of the TWCMP in fulfilling its plan objectives. Discussion regarding the TWCMP is presented with recommendations. A conclusion is presented and future research options suggested.
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