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Increase in Environmental Research Funding Needed

Substantial Increase in Environmental Research Funding Needed

New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society today called for a substantial increase in funding for environmental research

The New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society has called for a substantial increase in funding for environmental research, particularly into the effects of land uses on freshwater resources. This unprecedented public statement is made from the Society’s annual conference held last week in Nelson, jointly with the New Zealand Ecological Society.

Freshwater Sciences Society President, Neil Deans, said, “New Zealand risks more environmental catastrophes and conflicts such as recent toxic algal outbreaks in the Waikato and Rotorua lakes. Lake Ellesmere has been described as ‘dead’ ecologically, while the numbers of dry rivers will increase if we do not invest wisely and adequately in research to inform decisionmakers.”

“We find it difficult to reconcile the public’s concern about freshwater resources being the greatest environmental issue in New Zealand today, with the fact that the Government has not increased funding for environmental research since 1998. Government support for research generally is amongst the worst in the OECD compared with Gross Domestic Product.

The private sector is equally poor at undertaking research into the effects of its activities on the environment in general and freshwaters in particular. There are some encouraging signs, however, that certain sectors like the Dairy industry, are beginning to realise the strategic importance of investment in environmental research. New Zealand cannot continue to claim we are clean and green when we are not undertaking sufficient research or environmental monitoring to justify such a claim. Our valuable exports and tourism sector are at risk the longer this issue is avoided.”

Citizen’s groups across the country are forming as a response to major concerns over freshwaters, such as the Lakes Water Quality Society in Rotorua and the Water Rights Trust in Canterbury. Formation of such groups is a reflection of growing frustration that freshwaters are being degraded in many parts of the country. Research has investigated both causes and solutions, but the rate of environmental degradation has often been many times faster than attempts to fix it up. Research has often predicted problems, sometimes more than a decade in advance, but needs to be refined and developed to better understand critical thresholds. “Otherwise we risk continuing to make the same expensive mistakes,” said Mr Deans.

“The future of freshwater research in many areas is uncertain. Our freshwater scientific capacity is being seriously eroded, in areas such as freshwater fisheries, without adequate ongoing research funding. The conference heard several papers on the demise of New Zealand’s endemic eel species, while the valuable salmonid and whitebait fisheries have had a steady reduction in research over a long period. Keynote speaker Dr Philippe Gerbeaux observed that the government had identified wetland issues in its 1986 policy which continue to be problems today. Knowledge held by scientists takes many years to establish and can be lost more readily than it can be regained,” said Mr Deans.

New Zealand has a serious mismatch between the investment in ‘fixing’ environmental problems by comparison with the investment in avoiding such problems in the first place or investigating the effectiveness of restoration efforts. Tax and rate payers are collectively providing $81.5M to improve the water quality of Lake Taupo, for example, but a miniscule fraction of this sum will be used to investigate the effectiveness of this massive expenditure. Only one sampling point is being measured for the entire lake, for example. Such expenditure is itself partly affected by a former downsizing of lakes research more than a decade ago, which had predicted some of the problems now apparent, particularly in the Rotorua Lakes. Failing a significant increase in the static levels of total investment in freshwater science research, our freshwater environment is likely to continue to deteriorate, perhaps irreversibly in some areas.


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