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All rivers, whether they are in poor health or in pristine condition can potentially win an award for being the most improved river in a region or nationally
22 November 2017

River Story Finalists announced ahead of NZ River Awards 2017

The top three New Zealand River Story finalists have been announced ahead of tomorrow’s New Zealand River Awards 2017 ceremony in Wellington. Cawthron Foundation, who run the awards, has identified stories where individuals, groups, businesses and communities are working together to make a positive difference to the health of our rivers and streams.

"The New Zealand River Awards were established to draw attention to the state of our rivers, but more importantly, to recognise where communities, councils, farmers and industry were achieving significant improvement in water quality in one or more of their local rivers," says Cawthron Foundation Chair, Dr Morgan Williams. "The health of our rivers and streams is a crucial indicator of the future well-being of environment, society and economy".

The finalists in no particular order are:

School children champion the future of whitebait/īnaka in Christchurch City Rivers

This is the story of local children wanting to improve īnaka conditions in the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho and Avon/Ōtākaro rivers

Changes to river bank spawning habitats meant that īnaka spawning had been declining for a long time in Christchurch. Damage wrought by the 2011 earthquakes caused further decline.

The children studied possible reasons for this decline and what could be done to improve the situation. They then presented their findings to council. Te Waka Unua School student Sarah Nisha was part of the presenting group and said, "They were asking us lots of questions, and they were paying attention. I think if they hear it from children they will pay more attention to it."

EOS Ecology is one of many groups that have been working with the schools and, "it has been rewarding to see the passion and enthusiasm that kids have for learning about īnaka and participating in actions for their rivers", says Kirsty Brennan. "By providing experiential learning programmes that share knowledge and skills, we help our future decision-makers re-connect with their natural environment".

Sixteen schools have participated in Whaka Īnaka (Causing Whitebait) and the children have worked together with their community and iwi. 

Children have used what they’ve learnt to persuade their parents, their community, and the City Council, to change their ways. 

Leading the charge to restore the Tutaekuri River, Hawkes Bay

This is the story of Hawkes Bay local Te Kaha Hawaikirangi's good work to restore the Tutaekuri River

Te Kaha’s been involved with restoring the Tutaekuri on several fronts by embracing both the Maori world view and western science. He is applying this to re-writing local environmental rules, and is actively working with hapu on river restoration. This work has seen willows thinned out, 8000 native trees and grasses planted along the river, and whitebait spawning sites identified.

Te Kaha says "I’ve been inspired by work done by other hapu, on the nearby Clive river. I know restoration will take years, but I’m heartened by the big turnouts - a hundred plus people generally turn up to help on planting days. Many of them are rangatahi, young people".

Te Kaha Hawaikirangi is 30-years old and spent many of his young years leading the charge to restore the Tutaekuri River in Hawkes Bay. He does so in the hope he can bring back the plentiful yesteryears described by his elders.  

Research heads into the field

This is the story of a University of Otago project which pioneered a world-leading way of running experiments on freshwater

The impressive ExStream experimental set-up, which is located next to the Kauru River in North Otago, has provided many postgraduate students with an opportunity to carry out original research. Right now, it’s being used to see how climate change and pesticide use might impact on aquatic life.

The Kauru River was chosen to feed water and stream invertebrates, algae and microbes into 128 small circular stream channels because its water quality is relatively good and it contains a healthy, diverse aquatic community. This project wasn’t about improving Kauru River water quality, but was about conducting research to find answers to stressor-related problems and then apply these findings to more polluted streams or rivers elsewhere.  

"Working on the ExStream system set me up for my career", says Dr Annika Wagenhoff a scientist at Cawthron Institute who was the first of these PhD students. "At Otago University, I met a great team and could do research that had real-world relevance. The system we developed allowed us to run experiments that are able to test complex questions".

It all started fifteen years ago when the team got interested in teasing out how freshwater ecosystems respond to multiple stressors. Stressors often happen simultaneously so it is hard to work out which ones cause the effects and - importantly - how to prioritise mitigation.

A long-term research programme was established to untangle these effects. After several years of stream surveys and field experiments, the ExStream System was developed by Christoph Matthaei and Jeremy Piggott in 2007. Further ExStream Systems have been established in Germany and Ireland, and two more will be built in China and Japan next year.

Students gained experience by working on a ‘real life’ situation. And many, like Annika, now have jobs in research institutions in New Zealand and overseas.

Awards that identify the most improved rivers in each region and nationally will also be announced tomorrow. These rivers are determined by a panel of scientists using monitoring data from LAWA