How best to look after our precious New Zealand waterways – a personal view by Laurel Teirney of Wanaka

A personal view by by Laurel Teirney, a former manager at Ministry of Fisheries

The success of the community based/scientist/agency approach we adopted for looking after the whole of the Fiordland, and then the Kaikoura Marine Areas makes me feel we’ve struck on a “magic” formula that just might apply to our lakes and rivers as well.

My passion, at the moment, is finding out if such an approach might work for lovely Lake Wanaka – because I have watched in dismay as numerous lakes and rivers have deteriorated in front of my eyes. So something about our current approach isn’t working for our waterways.

Lake wanaka by laurel teirney
Lake Wanaka photo Laurel Teirney

 

 

 

There are those who say a combined community/scientist/agency approach will not work for this lake catchment – but why not give it a go? After all, what have we got to lose? And surely our lake deserves every effort to keep it in the low nutrient, high water quality category into the future for all our sakes!

buff weka
Buff weka family feeding in Lake Wanaka shallows in 2008. This species which had become extinct were once common on the eastern South Island. They were reintroduced from the Chatham Islands onto Lake Wanaka’s Stevenson Island and nurtured in an aviary before releases on Te Pekekara and Waikatipu islands and to Mou Waho Island in Lake Wanaka, where they currently enjoy surprising picnicking visitors.

Obviously a healthy lake is paramount not only for the well-being of these very special birds, but other species as well, notably ourselves!

To me the fundamental principles of the approach to managing the Fiordland Marine Area are likely to be the same for lakes – indeed for any type of waterbody.

1] First, the approach is all inclusive – that is, tangata whenua and every “interest” is represented and everyone selects their own representatives.

Cray fishing boat in Preservation Inlet NZ
Fishing boat in Preservation Inlet, Fiordland, with a cargo of cray “pots” [actually cages – lowered near rocks and pulled up again after a few days]. This is financially a high stress job, and dangerous. Also it’s a very different use of the environment compared to recreational fishing, and tourism

2] Then, when the representatives are around the table the first task is to agree on a shared vision. At our first Fiordland meeting in December 1995 there was a palpable sense of unease around the table. But when we went around the table and each person said how they wanted to see the Fiordland Marine Area in 20 years’ time, the unease was replaced by outright surprise – because everyone wanted the same thing!

Diving in Preservation Inlet, Fiordland NZ
A recreational diver in Preservation Inlet, Fiordland NZ. 2015. Diving for photos only due to it being a Marine Reserve, and as mentioned below not much is known about this area e.g. the fresh water layer here, on top of the salt water was approx. 5 meters, and nobody seemed to be aware of this – elsewhere it’s typically 1-2 meters

3] From then on, the primary focus stayed with the Fiordland Marine Area, not the desires of any participating group.

Marine reserves 3
Dusky Sound, Fiordland

4] Given the isolation of Fiordland little had been documented about the marine area – so the priority was to gather together what was known. Following the shared vision at the first meeting a large map of Fiordland was laid on the floor. Each group was given different coloured dots and asked to place them on the map according to the locations they valued. Red rock lobster and purple paua dots appeared rapidly all along the coastline. But the blue recreational dots were slower in coming – as we all know rec fishers are a bit reluctant to share info about where they fish…..but when they considered what might happen if they didn’t show their dots they too were around the map and the shared observations and experiences filled the room. Only then did Stewart Bull of the Oraka/Aparima runanga, calmly walk up to the map and place a single yellow Ngai Tahu dot way out in the ocean. Silence fell and then some-one asked “Hey Stu what were you doing way out there?” And he calmly replied, “Oh just looking around”. And that set the tone for the rest of the process – lots of good humour and camaraderie.

Dusky Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Good humour is often evident in Fiordland, especially on the rare sunny day! A pessimist in Dusky Sound, Fiordland does therefore standout – near where Capt. Cook anchored up in Pickersgill Harbour for a month, after a circumnavigation up to three quarters of Antarctica.

One other experience of community knowledge that has stayed with me was the identification of the lines defining the inner fiords from the outer coast. I’ll never forget Pete Young, a blue cod and rock lobster fisher, standing at the maps marking exactly where those lines should be with input and encouragement from the rest of us. It wasn’t until several years later that Steve Wing, our marine scientist, produced data that simply reinforced the lines Pete had drawn.

Long Sound, Fiordland
No place to be in a 4 meter alloy tender with serious white water wanting to drive the bow under, and we’re upstream of a large rock, with all but 5 mm of it submerged – the head of Long Sound in Preservation Inlet, Fiordland

5] And so to the roles of the community and agencies involved. These were complementary right from the start and best described by an “egg analogy”. The yolk represents the community – all passion, commitment and knowledge about their place. The white represents the agencies – all support, advice and management tools for putting the management decisions in place. And there has been an additional benefit as the agencies now work in teams for every issue they deal with.

To me, this approach harnesses all the knowledge, all the passion and all the energy that leads to innovative solutions for even the most difficult issues.
And ongoing motivation is assured by the delight and reward of being involved in looking after one’s own place.

So my “dream” is to see many more of our waterways, be they lakes, rivers or marine areas looked after in such a way. Top of FormAnd logically, extending this from the mountains to the sea (ki uta ki tai), whole catchments could be managed in such a way – though the logistics are rather mind blowing I have to admit!

In the meantime though, I’m just going to continue advocating for a Lake Wanaka Community Management Plan.

Wanaka water purity
The depth of water under the boat at Mou Waho Island on Lake Wanaka is deep enough to engender a sense of vertigo, it’s so clear. So “clear” that maybe we take it for granted!

Sunset - Dusky Sound, Fiordland
Sunset – Dusky Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand

Unless stated otherwise all photo credits are Southern Light

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