New Zealand – Harbor Care: The Waikato Catchment’s Clean Little Secret — The North Star Reports – by Delaney Babich. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[All photos courtesy of Whaingaroa Harbour Care.]
The Whaingaroa catchment on the west coast of New Zealand’s north island covers approximately 445 square kilometers of land. All of the water that flows through the streams, rivers, and ground end up in the Raglan harbor and eventually flow into the Tasman Sea. Twenty years ago, the harbor was contaminated to the point where people weren’t able to fish in, swim in, or drink the water. It took roughly 18 hours to catch one fish, and even then one knew better than to eat it.
Two nutrients affecting the water quality have human causes. The main source of nitrogen in New Zealand’s waterways is urine from farm animals. Once the paddocks of a farm become waterlogged, the nitrogen can wash straight through the soil before plants can use it. The weight that the animals put on the soil compacts it to the point where water and urine eventually run straight into waterways. Less directly, phosphorous from manure and fertilizer is carried into waterways by sticking to soil particles. It tends to accumulate in waterways where land has been cleared, in places where rainfall is high, and where slopes are steep and prone to erosion. This runoff results in increasing nitrate and ammonia toxicity and the unwanted growth of plants and algae. Too much nitrogen is also toxic to humans and animals. You can see why a group of locals may want to take the initiative to clean their waterways.
Whaingaroa Harbour Care is an organization that was started by two ingenious people with a simple dream: a desire to have clean water in the Raglan area. They came up with the idea that riparian planting, fencing, and sacrificed land could easily fix the issue. They encouraged 40 farmers in the area to give up grazing land near streams, wetlands, rivers and bogs and to fence off these areas a few kilometers out from the water. The HC group then planted thousands of native and non-native trees along the waterways and wetlands. This helped soak up fecal matter, nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that usually found its way into the harbor. They have planted 1.2 million trees since the project started in 1995, and have a 95 percent success rate with the plantings.
In the 18 years since the management has started, there has been a dramatic improvement to the water quality and recreational fishing catches have improved. Mudflats previously barren of life are now teeming with crabs, shellfish, and wading birds. In addition to making a major difference in the water quality in the harbor, there are numerous benefits for farmers including:
• Reduced stock loss in wet areas
• Reduced veterinary bills
• Reduced soil loss
• Reduced need for weed control
• Improved stock health
• Increased productivity
• Increased pasture quality
• Increased stocking rates
• Improved fertilizer control
• Improved shade and shelter for stock
Overall, this innovative idea has improved the quality of life for the people, wildlife, and flora in the area while the quality of farms and water in the catchment have also benefited. It is important to continue this project, and they are currently reaching out to other catchments along the west coast who have the same need for improvement. It is not rocket science, and hopefully the rest of New Zealand takes up the practice in order to save their water.
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24 responses to “New Zealand – Harbor Care: The Waikato Catchment’s Clean Little Secret — The North Star Reports – by Delaney Babich. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
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The damage human beings have caused to the environment within the past couple of decades (barely a blip relative to the age of the earth) is astonishing. We all need to start the process of righting our wrongs. This is a great example of an innovative and effective way to people can clean up their mess. By planting trees they both protect the water and create more carbon dioxide sinks, which we definitely need more of. I hope the other farmers do follow the organization’s lead and go green. Thanks for sharing Delaney!
Great article! Being aware of how easily waterways can become polluted is important for people to be aware of. I would love to know what other conservation efforts are being made or are being planned by Whaingaroa Harbour Care. Also, I wonder if they took quantified data of the waterways before and after the tree planting. It would be fascinating to see how the results of a macroinvertebrates test turned out.
This is such an interesting topic. I am from an area of the state where all of our lakes and waterways have been degraded by farming and reading this article immediately made me think of that. I think the way that Whaingaroa dealt with this problem could be a model for other places dealing with this issue. Degradation of water supplies has so many other lasting effects, making it an issue that should be prevented and dealt with before it gets too out of hand.
I love environmental science. A few years ago I worked on a project proposing how to efficiently and safely use pasture near a river. I found it really fascinating to research and compare different tactics to reduce water pollution, soil erosion, and depletion. I think that the model you talked about could be incorporated around the globe. Protecting our water (especially in places that are ‘farther upstream’) is so important!
This is a great article that shows how humans are damaging the earth with livestock. Look at the amazon and how livestock farmers are cutting down the rain forest to make more room for the cattle to graze. Good for the people for taking the initiative to go out and fix this problem. Do you know how many farmers out of the 40 actually followed the instructions? Also how big has Whaingaroa Harbor Cares grown after this project?
It is wonderful to hear that people are taking action to reverse harmful effects done to the environment. It think we often hear and talk about how the earth is affected by human activity, but never take the steps necessary to reverse the damage done. It is scary to think that clean water shortages are soon to become a reality in the near future. Hopefully more people will take up the practice and continue save their water.
Thanks for writing! I’ve heard you reference your experience in class a number of times and I’m glad you wrote this piece. With the COP summit currently underway in Paris, this draws a great connection between attainable environment efforts. Thanks again for you contributions in class.
This was quite the sobering article to read, and opened my eyes to environmental issues across the globe, which I think can be an issue for Americans– sometimes we only concern ourselves with the environmental problems within our own borders. Did you find that the sketchiness of the waters took away from the legendary beauty of New Zealand? I feel like for our generation particularly, that country has become a much talked about vacation spot. It’s reassuring to read that there are multiple organizations aiming to solve the immense issues at hand in New Zealand.
We always hear about ways that the citizens of the world are degrading the value of the environment but it is important to illustrate examples, such as these, to create a sense of reality. The prevention effort is long overdue but at least strides are being made now to build towards a livable status quo that can be maintained for generations to come. I’m interested to see the impact on the farmers and the rest of the ecological community, very much appreciated the article!
I really enjoyed this article! It’s interesting to see how farms cause an impact on the environment alongside industrial factories. I wonder if they’ve done studies to the Twin Ponds here in Duluth, as they’re right next to the golf course. It would be great to see places in the U.S. that use these methods to clean up pollution.
I worked at the EPA in Duluth for a year and a half, and we did studies on the nutrient loads, vegetation, and macroinvertebrates in local streams and noted their proximity to anthropogenic pollution sources. This research was done to develop methods for the EPA’s national rivers and streams assessment. Every 5 years the EPA conducts a national assessment on thousands of rivers and streams. Results from these assessments are publicly available although it is difficult to find data for a specific city such as Duluth. The report of the 2008-09 rivers and streams assessment, which summarizes results from the upper mid-west region, can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-03/documents/nrsa_0809_march_2_final.pdf
This is truly awesome. A lot of people want instant results in fighting environmental disasters but we can’t remove the waste and materials very quickly. This is a perfect example of this, as it took this long to reverse some of the problems. Amazing reversal of the environmental situation and I hope to see more articles like this in the near future! Thanks for sharing!
I’m completely in awe about how much of an impact urine can have on the environment. I’m not much of a environmental gal so this is probably common knowledge but your article definitely opened my eyes to this impact. I also think it’s crazy that just by moving some fences and planting trees they were able to counter act the effects. Mother nature sure is incredible!
Interesting efforts taken by New Zealand to combat this issue; however, it is unfortunate that conditions got so bad before they took action. Hopefully other areas and countries take notice of what went well in this and other examples so they can adopt it before the damage is already done.
I’m from central Minnesota and the runoff from pastures and fields, I think, eventually reaches rivers which carry everything far away from the original source (Hudson Bay and Gulf of Mexico, for example. But I’m not a scientist so this is just me thinking). I wonder if the distance from source to destination effects the how anti-pollution policy is pursued. Example: If you aren’t impacted directly by it, is it harder to care and taken action about it?
People around the world hardly “have time”, as they say, to do things that could make a difference. Reading this shows that we can make a big difference. It is sad though that it took the area to become unusable before something was done about it. It was amazing that a group of people accomplished so much. If people around the world followed their example, we would have much less pollution. Everyone would have much better lives if they did.
I always thought of New Zealand as one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s amazing how these things impact everyone across the globe.
Often we hear about all of the problems surrounding pollution, but rarely something about how it was dealt with, so this was very refreshing. Being able to come together and actually change how people behaved around waterways is great. The ideas and methods they used are very interesting also, with planting non-native trees. I would love to see this used in other places around the world, thank you for the article.
It’s great to see improvements for a project that is doing great things to better the water ways. Lakes around my house are becoming covered with weeds and a lot of fish are dying because of it. It’s good to read a story that gives some hope that the lakes could eventually turn back to their original self. Is the treatment used in New Zealand one that can be used all over?
I can’t believe how bad the problem became before they took care of it, but it is good they are taking action now. Many places in America, including right here in Minnesota have problems with runoff from farm animal waste. It would be interesting if the treatment they are using in New Zealand could be used here as well. We always seem to hear about pollution around the world, but not how people are fixing it. This is refreshing to hear. Nice article!
This is a great example of how environmental care can help everyone involved. The farmers benefited from this! Some farmers in the U.S could learn from this example and try to understand that environmentalism does not have to mean a decrease in productivity. Often increased environmental care can lead to increases in production and is good for the economy. You mention that they organization plants native and non-native plant species. Is there any concern over planting large numbers of non-native species in New Zealand? I know invasive species are a huge concern in Minnesota right now, just curious if they are in New Zealand as well.
It is amazing how such a simple plan can have such a dramatic impact. Not only thinking about the environment, but economically as well. The farmers are probably saving thousands of dollars, from the benefit of planting some trees and careful planning. Its great to hear that life is starting to rise up again in places where it was nothing but death. Just shows what a huge concern it is to keeping the environment healthy.
This is a great article that shows how people can make a difference. It is mind boggling that a simple idea, like these two people had, can have such an impact. It is important to try and keep the environment around us healthy so we can reap the benefits, such as fishing, swimming, or drinking water in the area. I hope that people can continue to fight to save our environment so we can continue to enjoy nature’s simple pleasures.