Ngati Kuri and researchers led by scientists from GNS Science and the Cawthron Institute have begun scientific sampling of some of the country's most remote lakes, north of Kaitaia.

The sampling is part of a nationwide project, Lakes380: Our lakes' health — past, present, future, aimed at determining the health and history of 10 per cent of New Zealand's 3800 lakes.

Ngati Kuri Trust chairman Harry Burkhardt said the project would help Ngati Kuri become more aware, and better placed to implement the best systems it could to protect the area's unique biodiversity, manage biosecurity, and enhance the iwi's relationship with the natural world "and these precious taonga".

Project co-leader Dr Susie Wood, from the Cawthron Institute, said Northland had more than 400 dune lakes, some of the rarest and most threatened aquatic habitats in the world. Dune lakes were only found in a few places around the world, often where people liked to live. Northland had more healthy dune lakes than anywhere else on Earth. The project team would take sediment cores and water samples from five lakes in the dunes south of Cape Reinga, including Lake Waitahora, the northernmost in New Zealand. Samples would be analysed to determine the health of the lakes over the past 1000 years, to learn why and how their condition was changing.

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Dr Wood said it would be a real privilege to visit Waitahora, 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 are excited to be working with Ngati Kuri on this mahi," she said.

The lakes were of high cultural significance to Ngati Kuri, important sites for mahinga kai (traditional food gathering). They would also sample Lake Te Ketekete, where more than 2500 people once lived.

GNS Science paleoecologist Dr Marcus Vandergoes, co-leading the project, said Lakes380 would provide information to assist Ngati Kuri and the Northland Regional Council develop protection and restoration programmes.

"These lakes are home to a unique range of native plants and animals," he said. "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."

They would spend three weeks working north of Kaitaia.