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Testing The Waters With Environmental DNA (eDNA)

Community groups around the country are being encouraged to get involved in the Environmental Protection Authority’s new environmental DNA (eDNA) science programme.

Launched today, the pioneering programme Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao - Open Waters Aotearoa, uses eDNA data gathered from waterways, including lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries to provide a picture of what species are present in the environment.

The EPA’s Chief Executive Dr Allan Freeth says the programme reflects the EPA’s values as a regulator, particularly those relating to scientific endeavour, mātauranga Māori and evidential decision-making.

"The programme’s aim is to build connections between people and the environment, between our work and the public, and between science and mātauranga Māori.

"Working together with community groups, hapū, and other organisations, our vision of an environment protected can be realised."

Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao - Open Waters Aotearoa is being led by the EPA’s Chief Scientist, Professor Mike Bunce, one of the country’s leading scientists in eDNA research.

He explains, "When animals move through their environment, they leave behind DNA. Like 'genetic breadcrumbs', we can use this unique DNA 'barcode' to identify different species from microbes through to mammals. This technology enables us to see what species are present in our environment, particularly our waterways."

The pilot phase of the programme focused on mapping waterways in the Wellington region. Since then, hundreds of water samples have been scooped up by community groups, hapū and other organisations.

"We’re now inviting groups throughout New Zealand to take part.

"One of the programme’s goals is to build an interactive map showing waterway biodiversity around the country. The twist is the program encourages people to look at their local environments through a new lens.

"The more people we can get involved, the more we can find out about the health of our waterways. This will help communities make decisions and exercise kaitiakitanga, or stewardship, over their local environments," says Prof Bunce.

Community and education groups, hapū, and members of local government or non-government organisations have until 24 February 2021 to register their interest in taking part in the programme.

Find out how to get involved

View Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao - Open Waters Aotearoa animated video

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