Something in the Water – Why Should I Care?

University of Otago Winter Symposium, August 8, 2017

Four fabulous panellists spoke to the subject then answered a myriad of varied questions from the 130-strong audience. This review briefly summarises freshwater scientist Marc Schallenberg’s presentation – apologies we couldn’t fit reviews of all four presentations.

In environmental management, the problem of “shifting baselines” is a concept used to explain how precious environments have been allowed to degrade.

The question is, how can we recognise, monitor and respond to these shifting baselines – which over time, lead to incremental, creeping degradation that is unnoticed until our lakes’ natural resilience becomes exhausted – to stop our lakes breaching their environmental tipping point?

Dr Schallenberg says we need three things:

  • a good understanding of how our lakes respond to land use change and climate change
  • careful monitoring of the lakes, including monitoring of early warning indicators of change, and
  • robust lake and catchment management plans that ensure that the key values of our lakes are safeguarded.

We don’t have to look far to find an example of this type of proactive research and management approach: Lake Taupo, where a catchment-wide nitrogen cap & trade system has been implemented to protect the lake from future algal blooms.

Dr Schallenberg left us with a five point plan to safeguard our Southern Great Lakes:

  1. Improve understanding of our lakes by carrying out more research.
  2. Engage with the University of Otago’s research group called Catchments Otago, to help inform environmentally sustainable development in the region.
  3. Improve lake monitoring, including monitoring of early warning indicators of change.
  4. Support the establishment of a lakes research and education field centre at the Fish & Game hatchery in Wanaka (the Alpine Lakes Research and Education Centre – ALREC).
  5. Develop lake/catchment management plans that account for community values and knowledge as well as environmental science and economics.