A four-year MBIE-funded research programme led by the University’s Environmental Research Institute and School of Science comes to an end this year.
To celebrate the research success of Enhancing Health and Resilience of New Zealand Lakes, the University hosted the latest in the series of Lakes Resilience Symposiums last week. It proved to be the most popular yet, with more than 100 attendees from all over New Zealand. The audience was about half researchers and half representatives of councils, government, agencies, iwi and communities.
Professor Troy Baisden has taken over leadership of the research programme and the Lakes Ecosystem Research New Zealand (LERNZ) team. The group includes scientists from Waikato and Otago universities, NIWA, GNS Science and Nelson’s Cawthron Institute with input from local and regional councils and other organisations with an interest in lake research and restoration.
Troy kicked off the day’s proceedings by reviewing the causes of freshwater decline, and how a greater focus on informing decisions and enables actions and investment can make a difference for restoring lakes. This set the stage for a day of diverse presentations, as well as displays set up in foyer.
The day’s programme comprised a subset of the LERNZ research outputs, which just in the last year have included the publication of a Lake Restoration Handbook, a journal special issue, a total of 41 journal papers and book chapters, and 22 commissioned reports.
Major topics covered data acquisition and visualisation, ecological and hydrodynamic models, resilience theory, and new technologies and applications for measuring harmful cyanobacterial blooms, monitoring lakes over time and detecting invasive fish detection.
An interactive survey tool showed that the audience felt a highlight of the day was the competition for being best at detecting invasive fish, with PhD student Melissa Collins' sniffer dogs winning over new but less charismatic eDNA technology.
A big question is what’s next for the LERNZ team? The audience survey also recorded that more research should focus more on the combined effects of climate change and land use on lake ecosystems. Troy’s appointment two years ago as the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chair in Lake and Freshwater Science is in line with this, and signals more focus on land use in the lake catchments, and on improving key points of decision making at the science/policy interface across major issues, including climate change.
In his opening address, Troy highlighted that efforts to cap and then reduce nutrients impacting Lakes Taupō and Rotorua have been world leading. The success factors have included millions in government investment and policies embedding structured scientific assessment into adaptive management in the lake catchments.
A challenge facing future research as the Ministry for the Environment announces major freshwater policy reforms this Thursday will be the expectation that future investment won’t primarily be from Government. This sets up a situation where imposition of “polluter pays” or similar policies can either build confusion and pain, or pave a path for major investment in more sustainable land use.
Troy says we will have a major opportunity to define research across disciplines that clarifies how to build certainty and leadership along sustainable investment pathways. “There’s a big challenge to define and prove what works while we’re still figuring it out.” But he also points out that everyone with the interest to attend the symposium or participate in research or action can help in some way.
“The university is uniquely placed at the heart of this issue because iwi rights and interests range from farming and forestry to looking after ecological health as mana whenua.” Troy suggests the principles emanating from Te Ao Māori will balance and inform iwi positions in freshwater governance arising from Te Tiriti, and will have greater importance when they also guide national and regional policies enabling stable investment in a sustainable future.
The four-year research programme laid down foundational pieces for this effort, including those described in Associate Professor Maui Hudson’s presentation framing six targets to achieve enhanced Māori leadership in data-driven decision making related to freshwater and te Mana o te Wai.
Maui’s work feeds directly into development of the programme’s geospatial interface on the innovative Takiwā platform, which was on display on interactive stations at the symposium. Describing the Takiwā Lakes platform, CEO and business strategist Mike Taitoko used his presentation to describe how our geospatial data visualisation can accelerate transformative solutions between farmers, Māori and government.