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When University of Canterbury master science student Annabelle Coates set out doing her research on voluntary stream monitoring she found that there was quite a lot of literature in British Columbia in Canada on voluntary programmes and even a number of different programmes in the United States. There was very little literature about it in New Zealand though she thought it would be easy to find voluntary groups caring for freshwater streams.
But she “was surprised there was not a lot out there.” She found a website that sounded like great work was being done in the Wellington region, however when she enquired, the work had stopped a number of years ago.
Annabelle is based at the Waterways Centre, a joint venture between the University of Canterbury and Lincoln. She finally found three groups to work with around the country, including one in Christchurch.
The Styx Living Laboratory Trust in Christchurch monitor the Styx River and it is one of the healthiest urban streams in New Zealand. The Heathcote and Avon Rivers have no voluntary monitoring programmes and Annabelle said the differences between the variation in insect populations, (one measure of a healthy stream), in these rivers is stark.
The Styx River has only been partially urbanised for about fifteen years, compared to the hundred and fifty years of urbanisation for the Avon and Heathcote, however there are going to be big changes around the Styx River with large residential subdivisions planned around the lower reaches. The volunteer monitoring will help to show if this causes any change in the river.
While regional and city councils monitor rivers, the volunteers are able to do it more regularly. One of Annabelle’s aims is to improve the way the volunteers collect the data so it is more comparable with the experts.
She said from her research what “people learn from being involved in monitoring streams was at least equal to the data gained. The volunteers by being involved with a river feel they are making a difference. People become more environmentally aware and develop a sense of ownership, which are all good things’’.
Talking to teachers who have involved their students in the voluntary scheme, the students also begin to monitor the streams near their homes just by looking at the insect life. “It is good that another generation is becoming environmentally aware,” she said.
She hoped her research, will provide a report that can be used not only by volunteer freshwater monitoring groups overseas and in New Zealand but also to increase the numbers of voluntary groups around the country, monitoring our freshwater.
``It only takes an hour and half once a month and you are doing something for your community,” Coates She said.