The NZ Landcare Trust’s Citizen Science meets Environmental Restoration project is wrapping up. The Dunedin event formed the penultimate workshop in a series of productive gatherings across 4 main centres over the last 3 years (Dunedin, Nelson, Palmerston North and Auckland). The upcoming #CitSciNZ2017 symposium and monitoring workshops (Te Papa, Wellington April 7-9) mark the close of the project and includes a day-long practical water quality monitoring workshop at Otari Wilton’s Bush.
Community water quality monitoring
The final working group meeting for Dunedin centred on water quality monitoring, one of many similar workshops being carried out around New Zealand. Respondents in a regular survey of New Zealander’s perceptions to their environment (Hughey et al. 2016), judged rivers, lakes, and groundwater to be the most poorly managed of our natural resources, so the increasing interest in monitoring the condition and trends of our freshwater resources comes as no surprise. However, contrary to the US where annually hundreds of thousands of volunteers engage in water quality monitoring, the responsibility for doing do in New Zealand has largely been left to govt. agencies and science providers. A culture change is now happening in New Zealand with help arriving in the form of new tools (see the 2017 Manawatu Working Group meeting), simplified protocols, a rejuvenated Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (SHMAK) and new sources of funding (e.g., Participatory Science Platform).
Urban stream monitoring
Regional Coordinators Craig Simpson (Otago) and Alastair Cole (Manawatu) coordinated an afternoon event at Kaikorai Valley College – where the Kaikorai stream meanders past. Participants included educational representatives from a primary school, ECOTAGO and Sinclair wetlands, two Enviroschools coordinators an exchange student, as well as liaison staff from Otago Regional Council and Otago Museum. The event began with Dr. Simon McMillan, HOD Science from the college, showing participants resources developed by the school to help students learn about ecology. This included simplified species identification charts for invertebrates and examples of fish images used to teach students about aquatic foodwebs. In the past, the school monitored nearby streams monthly (water quality and flow) and a probe in situ collected further data to supplement analyses. A conveniently located tributary with higher water quality enabled comparisons with the more degraded mainstem (some industries in the Kaikorai Valley use the stream to discharge their waste into).
Dr. McMillan outlined the challenges of maintaining programmes within the school curriculum with water quality monitoring now fitting into modules run only twice a year. Teacher champions are critical for programme development. The Ministry of Education Science Curriculum describes broader-scale achievements per learning level, leaving schools to largely determine what shape their own science curricula take.
Fish trapping and SHMAK
The next part of the workshop centred on fish trapping with Craig and Alastair discussing the set-up, use and sourcing (i.e. borrowing) of fyke nets (a single entry collapsible tube-shaped net supported by hoops) and g-minnow traps (a small rigid mesh trap with fish entry points at both ends).
Discussion then turned to the Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit. The SHMAK kit is widely known, having originally been developed by NIWA in 2002. The kit (housed in a carrying case) comprises an instruction manual, species identification guides and a suite of basic instruments to carry out monitoring. SHMAK along with the development of the Forest Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (FORMAK) in 2004, marked the beginning of ecosystem health monitoring kits designed specifically for community use. The SHMAK kit is now being rejuvenated with content updated and more training for community groups underway. A new addition is SHMAK PAK software enabling users to store their stream data online, calculate the scores used in the assessment of stream health, and produce graphs of the results.
Craig and Alastair went through the kit, outlining contents such as the clarity tubes and sensors/probes for temperature, dissolved oxygen, PH, conductivity, and how they can be used to measure stream health. The group then selected half a dozen rocks to look at invertebrate diversity and learn more about invertebrate sampling and identification procedures.
Data quality: How reliable are volunteers’ data?
Two recent studies set out to test whether there were differences in data collected by volunteers using similar tools compared to professionals. Dr Richard Storey and team (NIWA) found volunteers’ data most reliable for water temperature, electrical conductivity, visual water clarity and thick periphyton cover (i.e. algae, cyanobacteria, microbes and detritus attached to submerged surfaces). Volunteers’ data were less reliable for indicators of stream ecological ‘health’ (i.e. macroinvertebrate/bug monitoring) and E. coli though still provided information of general use (See Storey et al. 2016). In another study, Emma Moffett (Auckland Council) and environmental scientist Martin Neale investigated the difference between macroinvertebrate data collected by volunteers who used a simplified method for species identification. The researchers found the volunteer data had the ability to detect long-term trends in ecological health and was comparable to professional data (despite professionals using standard national protocols). They concluded that ‘volunteer data could be used to support professional monitoring programmes’ (see Moffett and Neale 2015).
Communities must be at the centre of their own development – Bonn Call to Action 2016
Interest in monitoring freshwater condition and trends is likely to continue to grow in New Zealand. The scope for community to become involved in identifying values for freshwater and setting objectives has increased through the development of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (2017). Beyond local and national, there are international obligations to fulfill – Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.3 calls for New Zealanders to ‘improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials…’, while the 2016 Bonn Call to Action urges volunteers to be a part of the solution to reaching achieving the SDG goals by 2030.
Hughey, K.F.D., Kerr, G.N. and Cullen, R. 2016. Public Perceptions of New Zealand’s Environment: 2016. EOS Ecology, Christchurch.
Storey, R. G., Wright-Stow, A., Kin, E., Davies-Colley, R. J., & Stott, R. (2016). Volunteer stream monitoring: Do the data quality and monitoring experience support increased community involvement in freshwater decision making? Ecology and Society, 21(4).
Moffett, E. R., & Neale, M. W. (2015). Volunteer and professional macroinvertebrate monitoring provide concordant assessments of stream health. New Zealand journal of marine and freshwater research, 49(3), 366-375.