Project to understand health of lakes receives $12 million in MBIE funding - 15/09/2017

A project jointly led by GNS Science and the Cawthron Institute to understand the current and historic health of 380 New Zealand lakes has received $12 million over five years from the government’s Endeavour Fund.

Marcus Vandergoes

Our lakes’ health: past, present, future will analyse lake sediments to understand how the health of 10% of New Zealand’s lakes has changed over the past 1000 years. This will enable protection and revitalisation of our precious lake ecosystems and their cultural and environmental values.

Co-programme leader and environmental change scientist Dr Marcus Vandergoes of GNS Science says there are more than 3,800 lakes in New Zealand with an area greater than 1 hectare.

“Currently there is limited data on the health of only 5% of these lakes, and this only monitors water quality over the past decade. The project will analyse lake sediments laid down year upon year, which preserve indicators of lake ecosystem change and water quality,” Dr Vandergoes says.

Fellow programme leader Dr Susie Wood of the Cawthron Institute says the sediments provide the equivalent of centuries of monitoring.

“These natural archives will provide the knowledge we need to understand the drivers of environmental change and restore the ecological vitality of our lakes,” Dr Wood says.

Cawthron Institute social scientist Dr Charlotte Šunde says the project will work in partnership with iwi and hapū.

“We will be guided by mātauranga Māori (knowledge) and oral histories to enrich and inform our joint aspirations for enhancing these taonga, our lakes,” Dr Šunde says.

This approach is reflected in the project’s adopted whakataukī, or proverb: Me hoki whakamuri kia haere whakamua (to move forward we must be aware of the past), conveying the importance that our current and future activity should always be guided by the lessons of the past.

The scientists will engage with regional and central government, and iwi and hapū to collectively sample and interpret the data from the 380 lakes. This will be used by kaitiaki and other stakeholders to undertake assessments of lake health and prioritise protection and mitigation strategies.

This is a highly collaborative programme with Matana Consulting, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, and Victoria, Otago, and Auckland universities. It also involves international scientists from Australia, the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Project Leader Marcus Vandergoes talks about the 380 lakes project on Radio NZ: