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Awards For Wetland Research

December 14, 2006

Awards For Wetland Research

Award winning research from two Masters students won the Golden Plover Award for original wetland research this week.

Kieran Whelan, who is studying for a Masters in Environmental Science at Auckland University, won the Golden Plover Award for his research into using native plants in constructed wetlands to rehabilitate mines, while Amy McDonald, a Master of Science student at Waikato University, won her award for her research into increasing the success of moving Black Mud Fish, in relation to establishing new populations.

Kieran’s research aims to identify indigenous New Zealand plants with optimum potential for the passive treatment of acid mine drainage in constructed wetlands; based on tolerance to conditions, growth potential and ability to sequester contaminants.

Kieran says mines can contaminate waterways a century or more after they have closed down.

He based his research project at the Golden Cross Mine in Waihi, closed down more than a decade ago, but which has its water treatment plant still functioning in order to prevent acid mine drainage.

Acid mine drainage is formed when underground and surface mining operations expose sulphide bearing minerals to oxygen and water.

Waters draining mine workings are typically acidic, iron rich and high in numerous trace metals. Acid mine drainage has negative impacts on tens of thousands of kilometers of streams, lakes and estuaries throughout the world.

“The Golden Cross was the first mine closed down under the Resource Management Act (1991) and the controls were a lot more stringent than they once were, when no treatment regime was followed after they were shut,” says Kieran.

“Environment Waikato has a large bond over the mine company to ensure it’s closure is environmentally managed, but keeping a water treatment plant going when a mine is no longer making money is expensive, so the mine company are keen to institute passive systems like constructed wetlands to manage the acid drainage.”

Constructed wetlands are commonly used for this purpose overseas, says Kieran, however many of the plants widely used in them are notified pest plants under New Zealand’s National Pest Plant Accord, hence the motivation for his research to find native plant species, which can perform the same function.

He says that previous research on the use of constructed wetlands in New Zealand has focused on agricultural wastewater and stormwater treatment applications.

Whereas his research will promote the establishment of constructed wetlands for the treatment of acid mine drainage at sites throughout New Zealand, directly influencing further remediation efforts at Golden Cross, and setting a precedent for mine closure and rehabilitation in New Zealand.

Amy’s winning research studied the Black Mud Fish, which live in wetlands and their associated environs, and are an endangered species, in part due the draining of up to 90% of New Zealand’s original wetlands.

Her research has involved experiments in translocating the Black Mud Fish from the Whangamarino Wetland to Lake Kaituna, both in the Waikato.

“I’ve been monitoring juvenile and adult fish in a series of pools I’ve created for them from natural depressions on the lake, and part of this research has been to determine optimum conditions for rearing the Black Mud Fish in captivity,” says Amy.

“They are pretty unique as they hibernate over summer, the scientific term is aestivate, they form a mucus layer which protects their skin and lie low, breathing through this and doing very little else throughout the summer months when wetlands become almost dry.”

“So I’ve been looking to see what temperatures and food types they require, as well as their relationship with the mosquito fish, an introduced species that has become a major predator of the mud fish.”

David Lawrie, Treasurer of the National Wetland Trust, says the Golden Plover Award usually gives a $1000 to a Masters student at any university in New Zealand undertaking original research at Masters level that will increase the appreciation of wetlands and enhance their restoration, or lead to an increase of scientific knowledge about any particular aspect of wetlands.

However, this year the National Wetland Trust awarded two Golden Plover Awards of $1000 each. “I am constantly amazed at the number and variety of wetland restoration and enhancement projects being undertaken in New Zealand,” says Lawrie.

“This year Kieran’s research into native plants for constructed mine wetlands, and our second winner, Amy McDonald’s into the optimum conditions for rearing the endangered Black Mud Fish in captivity, stood out, but to some degree all the applicants deserve to receive recognition and support. So it is always a very difficult decision choosing the award winner.”

The Golden Plover Award is sponsored by Canadian Dr Tony Reiger and Darlene Weldon, with the National Wetland Trust giving an additional $1000 sponsorship this year.

The Trust is very grateful for their sponsors’ support, says Lawrie.


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