Improving water quality in Samoa

Water sampling lowresA major project aimed at assessing and improving water quality in Samoa has been in operation this year, with support from the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.

A team of researchers from Massey University’s Pacific Research and Policy Centre have been working with Pacific Island researchers led by Patila Amosa from the National University of Samoa (NUS) to collect and analyse water samples. Their findings will provide baseline standards for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa to routinely assess water quality and develop management strategies that ensure communities, especially the young, are safe when using natural water bodies.

December has been a busy month for the project team. At the beginning of the month, Massey researcher Trish McLenachan provided follow up training to NUS researchers on the ‘loop mediated DNA amplification’ (LAMP) technique for monitoring fecal coliform indicator species Enterococcus and E.coli. Together the researchers also collected water samples for high throughput DNA sequencing to obtain comprehensive profiles of all the microorganisms living in water sources. At the same time, the NUS researchers undertook chemical analyses and microbial culture tests to identify fecal coliforms. This work overlapped with a visit to Samoa by Russell Death and Renae Pratt, also from the Massey team. From 7-14 December, using kick nets, they surveyed catchments, rivers and springs in Upolu and identified invertebrates to be used as indicator species for ongoing monitoring of water sources.

“Some invertebrates are tolerant of pollution, while others are not,” explains Russell. “Invertebrate compositions are also stable in water sources over relatively long periods, providing an indication of the history of the water and its pollution history. This information complements studies on microbial communities, which can change very rapidly.”

By combining information on invertebrates and microbes from different kinds of tests and surveys a very thorough assessment can be made of the water quality. “Furthermore, this work has great potential for developing effective low cost water quality monitoring programmes – by identifying which invertebrates live in clean water and which live in polluted water, and training others to recognise this,” says Peter Lockhart from the Massey team. “Our NUS collaborators are particularly excited by the opportunities that this work creates for community engagement, tertiary and secondary science education.”

The Massey and NUS researchers expect to be very busy early in the New Year analysing all of the data that has been collected so far. Their joint work represents a novel multidisciplinary approach that promises insights into understanding fresh water ecology in Samoa – a natural resource which communities depend on.

Photo: Research assistant Rodney Mulipola collecting samples.