Feature Length Live Virtual Presentation 10th Australian Stream Management Conference 2021

Rivers, residents and restoration: Local relations to the Waimatā River, Aotearoa New Zealand (#19)

Danielle Cairns 1 , Gary Brierley 1 , Gretel Boswijk 1
  1. School of Environment , University of Auckland , Auckland , New Zealand


The effectiveness of restoration efforts depends upon what you measure against. Surveys of societal relations to rivers provide critical baseline information with which to measure current engagement and facilitates future evidence-based appraisals of the effectiveness of restoration programmes. Yet collection and analysis of such data is rare. This paper presents an assessment of local relations to the Waimatā River on the East Cape of Aotearoa New Zealand.


Local relations to the Waimatā River were assessed using a mixed methods approach: document analysis, a catchment-wide questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews with residents.


The Waimatā River is culturally significant to Māori and pākehā and plays various roles in residents’ lives, but it suffers from high sedimentation rates, declining water quality and poor ecology. This impacted on relations to the river over time, particularly for longer-term residents (> 10 years). Interactions declined as perceived condition diminished, yet emotional connections strengthened over time. Interactions with the river positively influenced mental and physical wellbeing. Concerns and aspirations for the river were influenced by location and form of interaction type, such as forestry (upper catchment), and swimmability, water quality and aesthetic appeal (mid-lower catchment). Strong themes of responsibility and governance emerged, with forestry companies, Gisborne District Council and agricultural practices held responsible for the current state of the river.


Incorporating knowledge of local relations to rivers in the design and implementation of restoration activities enhances long-term prospects for success. Concern for blue spaces can enhance collective wellbeing of river systems.


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