50 years of freshwater science

The New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society (NZFSS) celebrated its 50th birthday in Whakatū Nelson this week.  ‘Ka mua – ka muri: looking back, moving forward’ was the theme of the anniversary conference, which attracted more than 350 scientists, managers, policy makers and Māori resource practitioners.  Incoming president Kate McArthur said “it is a great privilege to take up the leadership of such a diverse Society, which has a critical role in shaping the future of freshwater in Aotearoa New Zealand, and a particular honour to follow in the footsteps of the pioneering women who founded and led the Society throughout its early years”.

The conference opened with a focus on mātauranga Māori indigenous freshwater knowledge and the need to formalise collaboration between indigenous and western sciences at every level.  Tina Porou (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri) urged conference participants to work as allies to tangata whenua and to speak out to improve Māori representation and funding models that better reflect our distinctive knowledge partnership.

Professor Russell Death noted that as scientists “we speak out at our peril and our cost” yet he pushed the Society to speak out more about the plight of our freshwaters, rather than sitting back and measuring their decline. The Honourable David Parker, Minister for the Environment stated that scientists “have a duty to speak out” and that the coalition government would support them in doing so.  Newly elected President Kate McArthur, told Parker he was “on notice” and would be held to account for that support in future, given the advice the Society has provided via submissions to government has been largely ignored to date, despite the broad range in membership expertise and knowledge across freshwater science and management.

Other key conference topics included, the plight of urban catchments and lakes, swimmability standards, art for freshwater, Citizen science monitoring and a unique session on the little-understood but highly valued taonga: the freshwater mussel or kākahi.

The Society fondly remembered eminent scientist, colleague and friend Dr John Quinn of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), who passed away last month.  Incumbent Society President Dr Marc Schallenberg said “John was a highly respected scientist, resource manager and mentor for younger scientists and his contribution to the Society both professionally and personally, as well as his wider contribution to freshwater research, restoration and management will be greatly missed”.

Dr Schallenberg steps down as President in 2019, with the Society’s gratitude and thanks for his contribution and leadership over the last four years.