Global news: Scientists call for action on freshwater

Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

Earlier this month, the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society (NZFSS) issued several recommendations following their annual conference in Dunedin.

President of the NZFSS, and Professor of Biological Sciences at Waikato University, David Hamilton, says that much of the research that was presented focused around the impacts of land use on freshwater.

"The main issue is around land use intensification and the effects on freshwater quality, particularly in terms of sediment, nutrients and faecal contamination. We are putting more animals on the land, more cows in particular, and the outcome of that is that we've gone through a fairly consistent phase of decline in freshwater quality."

The plenary speaker at the conference, Professor David Dudgeon from the University of Hong Kong, detailed the global decline of freshwater species including iconic creatures like the Yangtze River dolphin of China. New Zealand's freshwater species are similarly threatened, with over two thirds of our native fish classified as either at risk or threatened.

Professor Hamilton says that although there is a lot of momentum in New Zealand around freshwater issues, concrete action is taking place too slowly. "What we see is things gradually happening, and we would like to see them happening more quickly. The government has already spent a lot of time and money supporting the Land and Water forum... It's time for the government to step up."

Of particular concern to the NZFSS is that New Zealand is yet to enshrine State of the Environment reporting on our environment into legislation. Although reporting is done by some councils, it is not yet a statutory requirement at a national level. The last nation-wide publication was put out by the Ministry for the Environment in 2007.

"Many councils have adopted their own reporting and taken the lead, but what we are looking for is for government take the lead and collate the information that active regional councils are currently putting together," says Hamilton.

Attendees to the conference included freshwater science community, including government Ministry for the Environment, Regional Councils, DairyNZ.

The conference also celebrated success stories. A particular piece of research from North Otago showed that planting and fencing waterways was able to bring about huge improvements in the freshwater environment in a relatively short space of time through a reduction in sediment and nutrients. Eels and native trout had also returned to the stream following the measures.

Read the recommendations of the NZFSS below:

• That the Government give effect to all of the recommendations of the Land & Water Forum as a high priority and with urgency in order to reverse these negative trends. The Land & Water Forum brought together many disparate groups and stakeholders and agreed on a strategy to manage a sustainable future for land and water in NZ. The Forum took account of the strategic advantage that NZ has with its freshwater resources, the evolving and important role of iwi in freshwater management, and the need to set and manage within limits on a catchment-by-catchment basis throughout NZ.
• There is an urgent need to put in place a statutory requirement for NZ to have national State of the Environment (SOE) Reporting. NZ is now the only country in the OECD that does not have such a requirement embedded in law. Delay in adoption of SOE reporting will further damage New Zealand's reputation in environmental management.
• There is an urgent need for consistency in national SOE monitoring to ensure NZ has a sound basis for reporting. The government needs to ensure the current work on National Environmental Monitoring and Reporting is adopted and implemented. This work supports the Ministry of Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries, concerning the National Objectives Framework for Water. It is also a critical component of the limit-setting process recommended by the Land and Water Forum.
• The Government builds on existing national freshwater monitoring networks to help ensure effective containment and eradication of both new and existing invasive pest species that cost the country millions of dollars each year.
• At least one of the upcoming National Science Challenges focuses on the declining freshwater health and loss of biodiversity associated with demands on use of freshwater and land use intensification, as well as the impacts of invasive species. This should be complemented by a commitment to long-term monitoring to ensure that the objectives for restoration and management are met.

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