The Waituna Lagoon is one of the best remaining examples of a natural coastal lagoon in New Zealand, and is unique in our region and to New Zealand.
From time to time, the lagoon has been mechanically opened to the sea initially for fish passage and latterly to help manage drainage for surrounding farms. It is part of the Waituna Wetland, which is a taonga (treasure of high significance) to Ngāi Tahu and was formally recognised by a Statutory Acknowledgement under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.
The significance of the indigenous flora and fauna of Waituna Lagoon and the surrounding wetland (an area of 3,500 hectares) was given special recognition in 1976 as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The extent of the Ramsar site was increased in 2008 to include nearby wetland areas, and the site was renamed Awarua Wetland, which now totals approximately 20,000 hectares.
Historically the lagoon was surrounded by peat bog wetland, the drainage from which gave the lagoon its characteristic clear brown stain. It has high ecological habitat diversity, a unique macrophyte community (ruppia dominated), internationally important birdlife, and large areas of relatively unmodified wetland and terrestrial vegetation hosting a number of nationally significant ecosystems. In addition, it is highly valued for its aesthetic appeal, its rich biodiversity, duck shooting, fishing (for brown trout primarily), boating, walking, and scientific values.
Waituna Lagoon sits at the bottom of a small (approximately 20,000 hectares), intensively farmed catchment. The lagoon is fed by three main waterways – Waituna, Moffat, and Carran Creeks. The catchment and lagoon contribute to the wider economy of the region and the livelihoods for many hundreds of people, through agriculture, tourism, recreational experiences and food harvesting. It has been, and continues to be, a special place for the local, national and international community over many generations.
What are the challenges for Waituna?
The Waituna catchment has undergone many years of land development, which along with changes in lagoon water levels has put the health of the lagoon and its tributaries under stress.
As such, the catchment and lagoon require ongoing active management to improve their ecological condition. This is to reduce the risk of the lagoon changing from having clear water and an aquatic environment dominated by aquatic macrophyte plants such as ruppia, to one which has turbid and murky water dominated by algal slime and other suspended phytoplankton.
Land development has included: drainage of wetland areas; clearance of indigenous vegetation; and more recent land use intensification since the 1950's when the main tributaries to the Waituna Lagoon were straightened, and Government schemes cleared and developed land and encouraged other people to do so as well. Changing water levels in the lagoon mean that farming in the lower parts of the catchment can be challenging.
What has happened so far?
There has been significant investment by various parties to develop a greater understanding of the catchment and lagoon, and to start addressing the challenges.
Success to date includes the formation of the Whakamana te Waituna Charitable Trust in February 2018 which is how the partners will work together, securing $13.3 Million in funding over 5 years, and the partners and the Ministry for the Environment - through the Freshwater Improvement Fund have contributed.
The programme is a framework for the plan for the catchment.
Work programme - Specific aims:
- Improve water quality in the catchment
- Support cultural aspirations
- Protect Waituna Lagoon
- Test at a larger scale land-use practices and systems for sustainable farming
"We want to show in the Waituna Catchment we are able to be productive and care for one of our country's most important wetlands."
What's been happening?
- Developed a fundable proposal with the Partners - February 2017
- Applied for funding - Freshwater Improvement Fund, Ministry for the Environment (MfE) - March 2017
- Refined the proposal - July to October 2017
- Negotiated a funding Deed - October 2017 to May 2018
- Established Trust - January to March 2018
- Established how the partners groups will work in the Trust arrangement - April 2018
- Signed a Funding Deed with MfE - May 2018
- Finalised Trust status and structure - June 2018
- Presently in the detailed planning stages to work out specific projects