Environment Southland


Piecing together the New River Estuary

About 50 experts and community members recently met with the common goal of working together for the health and wellbeing of the New River Estuary near Invercargill.

The discussion was initiated by ecologist and environmental scientist Dr Jane Kitson, Sunrise Rotary member Richard Kyte, Labour List MP Dr Liz Craig, and New Zealand Landcare Trust Southland Catchment Group project coordinator, Sarah Thorne.

Over the past 150 years, the estuary has been significantly affected by urban and rural development. This includes large areas of reclaimed land, urban discharges including treated sewage and untreated stormwater, past landfill leaching, and agricultural activities and run-off further up the catchment. As a consequence, sedimentation, excessive nutrients, toxic contaminants, disease risk, and habitat loss are all major issues now currently facing the New River Estuary.

A core purpose of the group that arose from the forum is to encourage a cohesive approach to the estuary's management and to work together as a community, says Jane. "It's about forming a network and making those connections. We need to work together and make each other accountable."

Richard says the group is focusing on four key areas: what the current situation is in each area, for example, with stormwater discharge; what would need to happen to address the issues; what is already being done and by whom, and; what the local community could do to help.

During the first six months, the central focus will be on having conversations with local councils and Government agencies, iwi and the community, says Dr Craig. The aim will be to try and develop a shared understanding of the issues, identifying who is responsible for which aspects, and what the community can do to help. "We can then develop a plan for action for the next one-to-two years," she says.

The need for a community-driven approach was highlighted at the first forum, with all groups – rural and urban – acknowledging the need to work together in a positive way, rather than attribute blame.

Sarah, who works closely with farmer-driven catchment groups, says when change comes from communities, by communities, communities are passionate and connected to it.

"It is grassroots, and real, and with a bit of support it can be lasting."

"Young and old, men and women, urban and rural; it's about everyone working together to find ways to look after our water quality and do their bit. It doesn't matter how small or large it is, it all helps in looking after our water, and adds up to big change. I often say that it is a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. All the small pieces coming together and creating something wonderful," says Sarah.

If you are interested in attending the next forum meeting or receiving email updates, please contact Dr Jane Kitson jane@kitsonconsulting.co.nz