Freshwater Champions Aotearoa New Zealand celebrates individuals and communities who are helping to restore and protect the health of our freshwater

Congratulations to the 2024 Champions and special recognition recipients!

The 2024 Freshwater Champions were announced at our inaugural Freshwater Champions Forum at Te Papa in Wellington on 23 May. 

ExStream Project win New Zealand River Award 2017

Thanks to our assessors, see below, who have completed the enormous task of reviewing more than 50 nominations from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. These included emerging and established catchment groups, outstanding individuals and advocates, as well as agencies doing great on-the-ground mahi to improve water quality.


Stay tuned to this webpage, follow Cawthron’s social media accounts or sign up to our newsletter to remain up-to-date on information about Freshwater Champions.

Assessment Panel

This year’s event will be assessed by the following scientists.

Kiely McFarlane
Roger Young
Roger Young

Dr Joanne Clapcott

Kati Doehring

Dr Kiely McFarlane

Dr Roger Young

Dr Jenny Webster-Brown

Criteria for assessing Freshwater Champions nominations 

Values and objectives
  • Clearly defined catchment values and objectives representing the wider community.
  • Alignment with Te Mana o te Wai, Te Mana o te Taiao.
  •  Who’s involved, partnerships, connections, collaboration/collective action.
  •  Involvement of mana whenua.
  • Short and long-term priorities.
  • Understanding of the scale of action needed to achieve objectives.
  • Knowledge sharing – types of mechanisms, within group and external to the group, scale of sharing (national vs local).
On-the-ground actions
  • Innovation and creativity.
  • Who’s involved, partnerships, connections.
  • What are the on-the-ground actions being applied e.g. farm plans, wastewater treatment, wetland protection, riparian planting, chemical or irrigation management, stock management, fish passage enhancement.
  • Are they recording their actions?
Making a difference and encouraging others
  • Who’s involved, partnerships, connections.
  • Evidence of what has changed e.g. stocking rates, land use, plants planted, fences built.
  • Effective monitoring and mechanisms for measuring change e.g. using NEMS-endorsed methods or cultural monitoring.
  • Scientific evidence of improvements e.g. published on LAWA or elsewhere.
  • Knowledge sharing – types of mechanisms, within group and external to the group, scale of sharing (national vs local).
Future-proofing the efforts
  • Reflecting on challenges/problems and how they are being tackled.
  • Continuous improvement.
  • Leadership, succession, intergenerational involvement.


Launched in 2023, this event replaces the Cawthron New Zealand River Awards, a biennial event that has been celebrating freshwater restoration efforts by groups and individuals since 2013.

Our objectives are to:

  • Raise public awareness about the importance of freshwater health
  • Recognise and celebrate those who have contributed to improving the state of rivers and lakes, wetlands and estuaries, and 
  • Share actions being taken by individuals, communities and organisations 

Cawthron Institute’s founder, Thomas Cawthron, believed science was the key to a better future. Our involvement in this event came about due to the scientific expertise we hold in freshwater ecology. We’re privileged to deliver an event that will see landowners, businesses, central and local government and Māori join Cawthron to celebrate freshwater restoration efforts and explore the latest science about freshwater ecology and restoration solutions.

Freshwater Champions Aotearoa New Zealand is proudly delivered by Cawthron Institute in collaboration with the following organisations.