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New environmental research institute: Need for sound science

August 26, 2011

New environmental research institute stresses need for sound science

Sound science should underpin sound environmental planning, policy development and management. That’s the message from the new Environmental Research Institute, launched today [Friday] at the University of Waikato.

The new Institute will marshal the university’s internationally-recognised research strengths in terrestrial, freshwater, coastal marine and Antarctic ecosystems, and aims to take a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling some of the big problems New Zealand faces in environmental degradation and biodiversity decline.

Speaking at the launch, distinguished ecologist Professor Don L. Strong of the University of California Davis said the natural environmental sciences would provide the foundation for maintaining mankind’s quality of life.

“All of humanity faces substantial environmental challenges in the coming century. People everywhere are struggling to maintain health of land, water, air and living resources.”

The Environmental Research Institute was offering an important venue for bringing together perspectives focussed on different pieces of the environment, and integrating the work of the natural environmental sciences with the social environmental sciences in order to contribute to New Zealand’s economic and cultural sustainability, as well as its environmental sustainability.

The ERI’s Director, Professor Bruce Clarkson, said the Institute represented an important strategic investment for the University with major expected benefits for New Zealand’s long term future. Biophysical scientists and engineers would be joined by researchers from environmental education, law, planning, resource economics, history, geography and matauranga Māori to consider environmental problems on the broader scale in order to come up with robust, real-world solutions.

University of Waikato Chancellor Rt Hon Jim Bolger also spoke at the launch, noting Waikato’s pre-eminence in ecosystem research and the importance of that research to tackle some of New Zealand’s pressing environmental problems.

“Research being undertaken through ERI at the University of Waikato will help underpin current and future government policies and strategies to bring economic, environmental and social considerations together in a sustainable way,” he said.

At a symposium following the launch event, six ERI researchers and advisers gave presentations on aspects of their work from restoring New Zealand lakes and terrestrial biodiversity to ensuring the restoration work is sensitive to Māori cultural needs.

ERI’s researchers are currently engaged in several medium to long-term programmes including a 10-year $10 million initiative to clean up New Zealand’s lakes.

The ERI’s terrestrial ecosystem research covers soil biogeochemistry, forest fragments, bioremediation and urban biodiversity restoration, planning and design.

The Institute’s freshwater ecosystems expertise encompasses lakes management and restoration, pest fish control, nutrient modelling and wetland ecohydrology.

The ERI’s coastal marine ecosystem research is centred on Tauranga, and focuses on ways to better manage the environmental well-being of coastal areas under pressure from urban development, aquaculture, recreational and commercial interests.

The University of Waikato’s highly-respected Antarctic research focuses on terrestrial biodiversity and ecological resilience in the Ross Sea region.

The Environmental Research Institute is one of four new research institutes established by the University of Waikato over the past year to join the long-established Wilf Malcolm Institute for Educational Research. The others are the National Institute for Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA), the Institute for Business Research (IBR) and Te Kotahi Research Institute (TKRI).


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