The improvement of Southland’s Waituna Lagoon and catchment health and wellbeing has become the focus for a number of organisation with statutory roles for this unique site.
The Waituna Lagoon is part of the 20,000ha Awarua Wetland, a designated Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and one of the best remaining examples of a natural coastal lagoon in New Zealand. It is culturally significant to the local Ngāi Tahu people, acknowledged under the Ngāi Tahu claims Settlement Act 1998.
In recognition of the importance of this natural resource, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Environment Southland (ES), the Southland District Council (SDC), Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Te Rūnanga o Awarua have formally come together to work alongside the community and other stakeholders for the long-term benefit of Waituna Lagoon, its catchment and community.
Concern was raised in February 2011 about the poor health of the lagoon. Monitoring information from ES and DOC, drawn together for the Report on the State of Southland’s Freshwater Environment, showed it was at risk of flipping into an algae- dominated state.
A multi-pronged emergency response was initiated and remedial practices were put in place, further scientific investigations were undertaken and communication channels established for sharing information.
While flipping remains a potential risk, the focus is now a long-term one to improve the health and wellbeing of the Lagoon, its catchment and community. Formalising the statutory partners’ group is a strong, futurefocused commitment ensuring their actions are aligned and complementary, and that they are working together in the most effective way possible.Setting and achieving goals will require considerable effort over a number of years. An organised structure to guide efforts allows for a comprehensive and coordinated approach designed to achieve greater improvements than if organisations worked separately and avoids duplication of effort. Working in partnership with the local farmers, the community and industry will be crucial to the success of the project.
To recognise the establishment of this formal arrangement, a ceremony took place on August 8 at Te Rau Aroha Marae in Bluff, where the terms of reference to guide the on-going relationship between the partners of the Waituna Partners Group were officially signed.
A web camera recently installed at Waituna Lagoon is providing scientists with regularly updated images of Walker’s Bay, where the lagoon was opened to the sea in late July. Aquatic Ecologist, Dr Andy Hicks said the main benefit of the web camera was to help monitor the lagoon’s opening and closing processes, and to help with the long-term monitoring of environmental conditions in the lagoon.
“The camera allows us to keep an eye on the lagoon without having to physically be there,” he said. Setting up the remotely activated camera was a challenge, plus occasional issues mostly related to the weather. Environment Southland technical staff have now resolved them.
Dr Hicks said the images taken by the camera would be useful for a variety of additional purposes. Recreational boaters would be able to check if lake conditions are suitable for boating, and if the images prove clear enough, the web camera could even be used for monitoring local bird populations.