Fonterra and the Department of Conservation (DOC) are a year into their 10 year partnership to improve the Waituna catchment and marked the moment with a Community Open Day today.
The open day was a chance for the local community to see the work being undertaken at Waituna by Fonterra and DOC and in conjunction with Ngai Tahu, the Southland District Council and Environment Southland.
Students from Gorge Road School attended and partook in activities including demonstrations with freshwater scientists, a live fish tank display of local freshwater species and a BBQ lunch. Attendees also got the chance to hear about plans for catchment over the next 12 months, suggest ideas and sign-up for future volunteer opportunities.
Fonterra Living Water Project Manager, Nicola Toki, said that the focus of the event was on celebrating community involvement, but she also wanted people to understand how the work being undertaken at Waituna contributed to restoring this important wetland and the health of Southland's waterways.
"In the first year our focus has been on monitoring and science. We've got to get this right to ensure the whole project sets off in the right direction and can make a real difference.
"We've also identified that protecting and enhancing remaining wetland fragments on private land can have a significant effect on the health of the catchment and will be working with our farmers to protect these areas," she said.
Eel habitat study launch
Earlier in the year, the Co-operative and DOC launched its first flagship project in the catchment– a scientific research study into eel habitats with the Cawthron Institute.
DOC Commerical Partnerships Director Geoff Ensor said, "Eels are an important part of the wetland landscape. The project will produce a traffic light system to help famers ad the public make decisions about how to protect crucial wetland habitat for eels."
Mr Ensor said that the first year of the partnership laid the foundations for initiatives scheduled for the next 12 months that would begin to make changes to the health of the catchment.
"Now that we have key parts of the science and measurement in place, we can really get out hands dirty - working with farmers to protect wetland fragments on their properties, trialling different pasture types to reduce phosphorous losses, installing and monitoring two passive filters to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loss and working with the community to plant along various banks and waterways," he said.
Working with farmers
There are approximately 130 farms in the Waituna catchment and 36 of these are Fonterra farms. Mrs Toki says that farmers have been very supportive of the partnership's efforts and are actively involved.
"Our farmers are doing great work already, fencing waterways and taking a hands-on approach to understanding nitrogen leaching risk. Our aim is to complement and enhance these activities with robust science to support decision making and speed up the improvements," she says.
The Awarua-Waituna wetlands cover 3500 hectares, including the 1350 hectare Waituna Lagoon. It is listed as a wetland area of international significance by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty promoting the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands around the world.
About the Fonterra DOC partnership
The Fonterra DOC partnership involves similar work with local communities to improve water quality at four other catchment sites in significant dairying regions. The other Fonterra DOC catchments are Kaipara Harbour, Firth of Thames, the Waikato Peat Lakes and Waihora-Lake Ellesmere.