Our Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao – Open Waters Aotearoa programme connects communities with science and their local environment, through exploration and discovery.

Connecting people and the environment

Wai Tūwhero o te Tāiao contributes to learning about and connecting with our waterways, and the value of environmental DNA (eDNA) in environmental monitoring.

It builds connections between people and the environment, between our work and the public, and between science and mātauranga Māori. Working together with community groups, hapū, and other organisations, our vision of an environment protected can be realised.

Across Aotearoa New Zealand, we are inviting community groups to take eDNA samples from rivers, lakes, estuaries, and wetlands, to discover what species live in our waterways. The groups use special kits developed here in Aotearoa New Zealand, to collect the eDNA.

Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao supports environmental groups to restore, monitor, and explore their environment through our waterways. When we learn more about our local ecosystems, we can make better decisions.

Hundreds of samples from rivers, lakes, estuaries and wetlands have already been scooped up by community groups, hapū and other organisations to build an interactive map that shows the biodiversity around the country.

Read more about eDNA

Video: Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao – Open Waters Aotearoa: the EPA’s eDNA community science programme

Community science: collecting and analysing eDNA samples

We work with streamcare, conservation and hapū groups who want to protect and learn more about a local river, stream or waterway. Participating groups collect eDNA samples using special kits that are simple and easy to use. The kits were designed by Wilderlab Ltd, and they are returned to its lab for analysis after each sample is collected.

Each kit contains a:

  • pair of gloves
  • large syringe for collecting water
  • filter that screws onto the syringe, for collecting the eDNA
  • small syringe containing a preservative, to keep the DNA from degrading
  • bag for the sample with a space to record coordinates of the site, and other details.

The samples are then sent to Wilderlab. A scientist processes the sample using a series of reactions and procedures to extract and isolate the DNA.

The DNA is then sequenced and, using DNA barcodes, different species are identified.

Mapping the samples

The data from the samples is uploaded to the Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao map. The map shows the biodiversity of different ecosystems around Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is free to access and opens up opportunities to help communities make decisions and exercise kaitiakitanga, or stewardship over local environments.

Explore the Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao map

Protecting the sample data

The data your group collects is yours to explore, share, and use to inform the way you go about your work.

All data provided through the Wai tūwhera o te Taiao - Open Waters Aotearoa programme is publicly available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) License.

View the CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

We strongly encourage that you contact your local iwi to seek permission to use the data. We recognise the unique relationship of Māori to the environment and the active interest Māori have in biodiversity across New Zealand.

Data may also have a biocultural notice attached to it. This tags samples that might have links to traditional Māori knowledge, be associated with tikanga, and/or mātauranga Māori. Many of the species in Aotearoa New Zealand are taonga, and associated data should be treated in accordance with the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Find out more about the Local Contexts Initiative 

The meaning of Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao

Haupai Puke and James Doherty, members of our statutory Māori Advisory Committee, Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao, gifted the name Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao to capture the concepts of "the waterway where the current carries you along" and "an enduring connection to nature, to the environment".


While water is not the only source that we can use to study eDNA (others include, dirt, insects, air), it is the most accessible and the focus of the programme. 


Opening a new lens to explore the biology that we don’t always see, new connections across Aotearoa, new path towards better environmental protection.

Being open about the data we generate for all to see, new methods and ideas for studying our environment, having learning opportunities for tamariki.


This is a nationwide programme with strong iwi connections. It offers a sense of connection and collaboration, and refers to the eDNA map.