New Zealand's northernmost iwi has joined forces with a group of scientists to study the health of the country's northernmost lakes in the dunes north of Kaitaia.

The three-week water sampling programme by Ngāti Kuri, GNS Science and the Cawthron Institute is part of the nationwide Lakes380 project, which aims to determine the health and history of 10 per cent of New Zealand's 3800 lakes.

Ngāti Kuri Trust chairman Harry Burkhardt said the project would help Ngāti Kuri implement systems to protect the area's unique biodiversity and enhance the iwi's relationship with the natural world.

Northland has more than 400 dune lakes, which are among the rarest and most threatened aquatic habitats in the world.

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Working with Ngāti Kuri, the Lakes380 team will take sediment cores and water samples from five lakes in the sand dunes just south of Cape Reinga.

They will then analyse the samples to determine the health of the lakes over the past 1000 years to understand why and how their condition is changing. One of the target lakes, Lake Waitahora, is New Zealand's northernmost lake.

Project co-leader Dr Susie Wood, of the Cawthron Institute, said it was a privilege to visit Lake Waitahora, which was likely one of the world's most pristine dune lakes.

"We know next to nothing scientifically about this lake and the animals and plants that live in it. We're excited to be working with Ngāti Kuri on this mahi. This provides us with a unique opportunity to learn from their long association with these lakes and further enrich our knowledge of these precious places."

Wood said the lakes had high cultural significance to Ngāti Kuri and were often important sites for mahinga kai (traditional food gathering).

The Lakes380 team would also sample Lake Te Ketekete, where more than 2500 people once lived in a lakeside settlement.

GNS Science paleoecologist Dr Marcus Vandergoes said Lakes380 would provide information to help Ngāti Kuri and the Northland Regional Council to develop protection and restoration programmes for the lakes.

"These lakes are home to a unique range of native plants and animals. Our project will use a range of new methods such as environmental DNA and scanning techniques to measure the current and past biodiversity of these globally distinct lakes."

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The Lakes380 team will be working north of Kaitaia for three weeks. In August they will sample a further 20 lakes on the Pouto Peninsula in the Kaipara. Go to lakes380.com for more information.