Freshwater scientists call for urgent action

Experts in freshwater quality, management and biodiversity have signed on to a series of recommendations, released today, they say are critical to turning around New Zealand’s worsening record on water quality.

Polluted waterways, invasive pests and weeds, waterborne illness and the absence of legal protection for critically endangered freshwater species are among the problems highlighted in a strongly-worded warning from the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society, which concluded its annual meeting last week in Dunedin.

“Failure to act with decisiveness and urgency risks further environmental degradation and erosion of our international environmental reputation and branding. The possibilities of more waterborne illness, serious contamination and depletion of groundwater aquifers, and extinction of native fish species will depend on reversing strong detrimental trends,” the statement says.

Among its recommendations, NZFSS scientists are calling for:

  • urgent adoption of all Land & Water Forum recommendations;
  • mandatory national State of the Environment reporting (to bring NZ in line with the OECD);
  • strengthening of national freshwater monitoring for containment and eradication of invasive species;
  • a freshwater health and biodiversity-focused National Science Challenge.

Read the full statement, including the complete list of recommendations, on the NZFSS website.

An excerpt:

None of [New Zealand’s] unique freshwater species, even critically endangered species, has any formal legal protection in New Zealand. A recurring theme in the conference was not only a clear record of decline in the quality, health and resilience of a number of freshwater ecosystems in New Zealand but also a pointer to the underlying causal factors.

“Land-use intensification was a central focus; it has often been associated with water abstractions, irrigation, wetland drainage, increasing levels of nutrients and sediments, higher stock numbers and nutrient application practices, as well as expansion of urban land use. Invasive species such as didymo in the South Island and koi carp in the North Island, as well as exotic weeds, continue to compromise the integrity of freshwaters.

“However, several presentations in the conference showed clear benefits of best practice measures to restore degraded systems or mitigate the effects of unsustainable water resource use. New Zealand science programmes have demonstrated over the last three decades techniques by which many of these problems can be mitigated and minimised.

“Some landowners and businesses have already adopted them with success and have demonstrated that production and pollution do not need to go hand in hand, or cause loss of profits. What is lacking is the political will nationally to ensure widespread use of these techniques and to moderate the practices that cause the problems.”

Listen back to an SMC Briefing on freshwater with keynote speakers David Dudgeon, Mike Joy and NZFSS president David Hamilton.