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James Muir

As a Scientific Entrepreneur and Filmmaker, James has been the driving force behind RiverWatch. His most valuable learning has been from his relationships with suppliers, researchers, designers, government and end-users.

01.03.2022

9 min read

Research

New Zealand’s Environmental and Water Quality Concerns

New Zealand's environmental perceptions, concerns and related statistics signify how crucial it is to continue building and expanding our knowledge of our environment.


Being aware of the freshwater quality issue is not enough – change is needed.

New Zealander's environmental perceptions and the following statistics signify how crucial it is to continue building and expanding our knowledge of our environment as a nation.

There's a disparity between what people perceive as environmental issues and causes versus the reporting data.


What Are New Zealand's Environmental Issues?

A study carried out by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ in 2019 shows how the nation is living is having a serious impact on the environment.

The statistics show the health of the environment and the significant environmental pressures areas are under in many places, including towns, cities, rivers and oceans.

To protect the things we value, like the environment, we need to focus on the choices we make. New Zealand understands there are many environmental concerns, with freshwater quality being a significant issue.


The Top Environmental Issues

  1. Native plants, animals, and ecosystems are under threat

  2. The soil and water is degrading due to land vegetation changes

  3. Land versatility and native biodiversity is reducing due to urbanisation

  4. Farming area waterways are polluted

  5. Urban area environments are polluted

  6. Taking water is changing the flow and affecting freshwater ecosystems

  7. Fishing methods are affecting the ocean environment's health

  8. Greenhouse gas emissions are high per person

  9. Significant climate changes are impacting Aotearoa.


Increasing daily temperature indicates significant climate changes impacting Aotearoa.

Increasing daily temperature indicates significant climate changes impacting Aotearoa.
(Source: NZ Statistics)


It has taken generations to lead to this point of degradation of the water and environment, and issues won't be fixed overnight. While good work is being done to protect our environment, more work is needed in farming, urban areas, and homes.

"The choices we have to make to respond to the issues raised are not always straightforward. The economy has been built on our environment, our population continues to grow, and climate change is amplifying many current pressures. Understanding the issues means we can focus our efforts in the places where we can make the biggest difference,"

Ms Robertson said.


Water Quality Concerns in New Zealand

In a 2018 General Social Survey, four out of five New Zealanders expressed concern about the freshwater quality of our country. The state of rivers, streams, lakes, aquatic life and wetlands were identified as issues.


Our Freshwater Quality is a Nationwide Concern

Half of the 80% who reported freshwater quality as an issue claimed farming activities as the leading cause. 17% said stormwater and sewage discharge are the leading cause.

Despite surveying people living in both rural and urban areas, there was little difference in attitudes around the concerns of freshwater and the leading causes.

Almost half of the survey participants believed farming to be the leading cause of the freshwater quality issue.

The Ministry for the Environment claims that land use and population growth are the main factors affecting New Zealand's freshwater health.

From urbanisation to wetland drainage, even river modifications, they all have increased the pressure on our freshwater bodies around the country.

Understanding our environment as a whole system is a much more significant challenge with considerable knowledge in some areas. By aligning and coordinating efforts across our reporting systems, we can better equip the nation to understand the effects of our actions.

Consequences of the Ecosystem and Water Quality Issue

A Government report released in April 2019 shows that 82% of rivers in pastoral farming areas weren't safe for swimming between 2013 to 2017.


"The two issues are quite linked. Waterways are polluted because of the intensification of farming in New Zealand and we know that the majority of emissions are coming from the farming industry."

Says Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen about climate change and freshwater quality.

Reducing the intensification of farming is predicted to reduce our daily lives' impact on New Zealand's water quality.

There's more pollution in the environment than we can handle, and it's right in front of our eyes; everyone can see it. New Zealanders are becoming more concerned that their waterways will make them sick because the pollution is evident.

We can't swim in all our rivers, and we're concerned that our freshwater is no longer safe for fishing or drinking, and that's a genuine concern.


What is Causing Our Environmental Issues?

According to data from the 2018 New Zealand General Social Survey and Environment Aotearoa 2019, New Zealand's top three perceived causes of damage to the environment include:

  1. 43.6% of people believe Sewage/Stormwater to be one of three main causes.

  2. 43.0% of people believe Farming to be one of the three main causes.

  3. 25.99% of people believe Industrial Activities to be one of the three main causes.


People's Perception of What is Damaging New Zealand's Environment.

People's Perception of What is Damaging New Zealand's Environment.
(Source: Lincoln University)


The top three things perceived to damage the environment include the use of water – sewage and stormwater management is one thing. Still, farming and industry activities heavily rely on water for daily operations.


Perception Versus Facts

From the 2018 General Social Survey data, those who agree there were such environmental issues also discussed what they thought the main cause was. In comparison, New Zealand's perceptions alongside the reporting data show a gap in concerns versus knowledge.


Climate Change

People thought that an activity contributing to greenhouse gas concentrations was the primary cause of weather pattern changes. Specifically, almost 40% of participants estimated that industrial activities are the contributing factors.

The data shows that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases contribute to the combustion of fossil fuels worldwide, not just within the country.


Air Pollution

Over 40% of people believe that vehicle emissions are the main cause of poor air quality. Furthermore, around 25% of people thought that industrial activities contributed to worsening air quality.

New Zealand's air quality is generally good, and while vehicle emissions do contribute to air pollution, data show's it isn't necessarily the primary cause. Instead, the main cause is attributed to wood and coal burning, mainly for heating homes.


Freshwater Quality

Just under half of the participants thought that farming is the main cause of New Zealand's freshwater quality issues, followed by sewage/stormwater and industrial activities.

The data shows that rivers located in pastoral farming areas contain between 2x to 15x higher medium concentrations of pollutants, nutrients and alike than rivers located outside of pastoral farming areas.


Endangered Species

Pest and deforestation were the main causes people believe contributed to endangered species, followed by urban development just after.

The introduction of new species is considered one of the biggest threats to our native species. However, data also shows habitat loss and pollution are a significant pressure.


Ocean and Sea Life

People believe household waste is the main cause for the changing state of our oceans and sea life, closely followed by sewage/stormwater.

The data shows that significant pressures on New Zealand's marine environment include fishing methods, land and water pollution, invasive species, and climate change.


Understanding and Monitoring Water Quality

New Zealand has real and significant environmental and water quality concerns. The population's perception and accompanying statistics show how crucial it is to educate the nation about the reality of our environment.

Understanding the quality of our waterways and environment can be achieved through the help of real-time water monitoring technology. At RiverWatch, our goal is to empower New Zealanders to understand their ecosystems and achieve clean and swimmable rivers.

Get in touch with us to learn more about RiverWatch and our innovative water quality monitoring solution.

Recent Water Quality Research

Keep up to date with water quality data, research and compliance. With our real-time water monitor, we provide consistent water quality data translated into easy-to-understand information. Empowering you to protect New Zealand waters with environmental science and helping you understand water health.