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Community groups gather data to revitalise Waimatā River

Have you heard the river speak?

At a workshop held last week, the Waimatā Catchment Group (WCG), along with the Let the River Speak research team and community members, “voiced” their ideas on revitalising the Waimatā River.

“This workshop gives the community a chance to review the existing data of the river and further develop and set up projects,” lower WCG chair Dr Jill Chrisp said.

At the two community hui held earlier this year, the group encouraged community members to share their concerns. Themes such as mātauranga-based projects (Māori knowledge), education, stopping river pollutants, planting and pest control were recognised as areas that needed to be worked on.

“The second workshop was more about the anticipation to have or develop at least one project under each of the five thematic areas,” Dr Chrisp said.

The more than 50 workshop attendees were divided into five teams to discuss and formulate strategies.

The citizen science group working on the mātauranga-based projects identified the need to determine the source of sediment pollutants, tested water quality and visited the awa (river) for a health check-up.

The group looked at the mātauranga of the river, how to get communities involved as citizen scientists and develop ways to understand the river.

The education group discussed what people could learn to improve the state of the awa.

“The education part is really about understanding what are the right trees to plant in the area, how to deal with predators and the social history of the river,” Dr Chrisp said.

The education group plans to get schools involved to learn, gather resources, and maybe even adopt a portion of the awa.

Let the River Speak team leader Dr Dan Hikuroa, who joined the workshop with his team via Zoom from Auckland, said the workshop provided a unique opportunity for the community to identify problems, for example sedimentation, and discover new challenges that may be affecting the health of the awa.

The Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website shows the Waimatā River is performing poorly in areas such as high E.coli levels and dissolved reactive phosphorus.

“From a science perspective we have a pretty good picture of the river condition, but aspects like the concerns raised by the community are often missed from data collection,” Dr Hikuroa said.

Waka ama paddlers who train on Gisborne rivers believe they are getting sores, rashes and infections from something in the water.

“It is just one of the areas that we need more data on as a high concentration of water nutrients such as nitrates and phosphorus wouldn't necessarily have the same impact on human health everywhere. That's the mystery we have to solve and that's where the research team comes in,” he said.

Dr Hikuroa said the researchers would aid the developing projects from the workshop to ensure the outcomes were on the right track.

If paddlers were to keep a record of the quality using water testing kits and observation, the research team could take a sample of the water from that portion of the awa and identify the new challenge.

“We see ourselves as enablers and assisters,” he said.

The third group discussed ways to reduce pollutants that enter the river.

“To do that we need past data to compare with its current condition. Also it is crucial to scope out the pollutants affecting the health of the river at present and look for ways to reduce them,” she said.

Women's Native Tree Project Trust nursery manager Kauri Forno was the facilitator for the planting group.

Members brainstormed several ideas and decided to organise a seed collection.

“Ideally we plan to use eco-sourced seeds, which is whakapapa to the Waimatā region, and plant near the riverside to fence off the river from stock and provide shade, keeping it cool and giving more oxygen to the awa,” she said.

The pest control was facilitated by upper WCG project manager Laura Watson.

The upper catchment group received funding earlier in the year from the Department of Conservation Jobs for Nature – Mahi mō te Taiao fund. The funding would be used to practise intensive predator control over 3000ha of farmland.

“We are hoping this will not only improve the existing biodiversity in the area, but allow us to reintroduce species such as pāteke/brown teal and ngutukākā/kākābeak.”

The pest control workshop team discussed pest problems in the residential area of the lower catchment.

Rats were identified as a big issue but there were also sightings of stoats, weasels and hedgehogs.

“We will continue to do further research on a residential pest control project and we will be meeting with tangata whenua and key stakeholders in the New Year,” Ms Watson said.

While all of the projects were focused on reaching their respective outcomes were interlinked, Dr Chrisp said.

“We recognise that if we don't work together now, we may not be able to restore it. So it is important we kick into action.”

LEARNING THE ROPES: Young George Watson learns all about setting DoC200 traps from NZ Landcare Trust's Hamiora Gibson as Lou Kennard watches on. Picture supplied
THE TRICKS OF THE TRADE: Jack Utting sets a DoC200 trap on his family farm in the upper Waimatā catchment. Picture supplied
HELPING HANDS: George Watson was more than happy to help plant natives around the Waimatā River catchment. Picture supplied