Lake Tutira, Autumn 2022

Leading New Zealand scientists have been in Hawke’s Bay this week to find out.

How much sediment was deposited in Lake Tūtira and the adjacent Lake Waikōpiro by Cyclone Gabrielle? And how long will these lakes take to recover?

That’s the questions three of New Zealand’s leading scientists have been trying to find out on a field trip to Hawke’s Bay this week.

The scientists, funded by their own institutions, are Dr Marcus Vandergoes from GNS, a paleoecologist whose research focuses on reconstructing historic and prehistoric environmental change through the analysis of lake and peat sediment cores. This gives him insight into how ecosystems and environments have responded to climate change, landscape evolution and human impact.  

Vandergoes is working on the Hawke’s Bay lakes with Dr Sean Fitzsimmons, Professor of Geography at the University of Otago whose research also constructs landscape change from lake sediments. The third scientist, Jamie Howarth, Associate Professor in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, develops proxy records of environmental change preserved in sediments.

The three scientists will focus on sediment that has deposited in Tūtira and  Waikōpiro as a result of the cyclone, and will use environmental DNA analysis to look at the impact that this may have on cultural health, taonga species, and communities of microorganisms. 

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) Science Manager Anna Madarasz-Smith says our estuaries and lakes receive contaminants from the surrounding catchments, including large amounts of silt, making them vulnerable to poor ecological health. 

“Understanding how the cyclone has affected these areas will inform how they can recover and is fundamental to supporting the environment back to health.”

Other scientists from around New Zealand have also been funded by their own organisations to pitch in and help the Hawke’s Bay region understand the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle. 

Three NIWA technicians from Waikato and Nelson have been here this week working with HBRC to collect samples from the Ahuriri and Waitangi estuaries.  
“These will tell us how the animals that live in the estuarine sediments – such as fish and bugs – have coped with the recent extreme weather,” says Madarasz-Smith. 

“They provide important food for fish and birds, and keep the sediment and water clean.”

The results will be also used by NIWA to look at the effect of floods on estuarine fauna and recovery, and HBRC scientists will use these results to assess changes from baseline conditions.

“Understanding the initial impact of the cyclone and expanding our knowledge of the impact of severe storms on our lakes and estuaries will help guide management strategies to build environmental resilience,” says Ms Madarasz-Smith.

For more on this topic see the May/June BayBuzz magazine story, Our environment is hurting too,  written early in April.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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1 Comment

  1. Lake Tutira has taken a pounding like the lands of Tutira … historical DNA shows this event to be nothing new for our beloved lake.
    It’s disheartening for many with a connect to Lake Tutira and our local community who derive there self esteem from the daily environment in which we live.
    Much effort has been made from the catchment community over generations to enhance and this big set back when the gains that had been made were evident for all to see.
    Our catchment community is working on strategy .. its very early days but a community group is working tirelessly toward getting things rolling and supporting community as we move the recovery forward
    I am only on the outer edge of this group but am as are many in this community fully supportive and humbled and respectful of the recent distribution of fencing materials to empower catchment restoration … Tutira mia nga iwi …

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