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Freshwater Sciences Society – Key closing messages

New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society

Media statement

Monday 10 December 2012

New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society – Key closing messages from annual meeting

The New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society concluded its annual meeting, held at the University of Otago, Dunedin last week, with a warning about the widespread decline of aquatic biodiversity and water quality in New Zealand.

The Society is a professional body that supports scientifically-informed decision making for freshwater management in New Zealand. It has issued a series of recommendations to address key issues (see below).

The Society was addressed by world-renowned expert in freshwater conservation, Professor David Dudgeon from the University of Hong Kong. He presented a grim picture for the future of freshwater species globally in his plenary talk, with species losses in freshwater occurring at roughly twice the rate of any other ecosystem type. He expressed extreme surprise to find that endemic freshwater species in New Zealand were even more severely threatened than elsewhere.
None of these 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.

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.

Otherwise, New Zealanders will be left with a sad environmental legacy and a serious financial burden from the current generation. This will happen unless restoration costs needed to protect and recover freshwater resources and invaluable ecosystem services provided by freshwater, are met with urgent, science-led improvements.

Members of the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society are confident that given appropriate and adequate support, important improvements can be achieved. The Society’s recommendations to address the current situation include:

• That the Government give effect to all of the recommendations of the Land & Water Forum as a high priority and with urgency in order to reverse these negative trends. The Land & Water Forum brought together many disparate groups and stakeholders and agreed on a strategy to manage a sustainable future for land and water in New Zealand. The Forum took account of the strategic advantage that New Zealand has with its freshwater resources, the evolving and important role of iwi in freshwater management, and the need to set and manage within limits on a catchment-by-catchment basis throughout New Zealand.

• There is an urgent need to put in place a statutory requirement for New Zealand to have national State of the Environment (SOE) Reporting. New Zealand is now the only country in the OECD that does not have such a requirement embedded in law. Delay in adoption of SOE reporting will further damage New Zealand’s
reputation in environmental management.

• There is an urgent need for consistency in national SOE monitoring to ensure NZ has a sound basis for reporting. The government needs to ensure the current work on National Environmental Monitoring and Reporting is adopted and implemented. This work supports the Ministry of Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries, concerning the National Objectives Framework for Water. It is also a critical component of the limit-setting process recommended by the Land and Water Forum.

• The Government builds on existing national freshwater monitoring networks to help ensure effective containment and eradication of both new and existing invasive pest species that cost the country millions of dollars each year.

• At least one of the upcoming National Science Challenges focuses on the declining freshwater health and loss of biodiversity associated with demands on use of freshwater and land use intensification, as well as the impacts of invasive species. This should be complemented by a commitment to long-term monitoring to ensure that the objectives for restoration and management are met.


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