Our Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao – Open Waters Aotearoa programme supports connections with science and local environments through exploration and discovery.
People and the environment
Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao contributes to learning about and connecting with our waterways, and the value of environmental DNA (eDNA) in environmental monitoring.
We provide eDNA testing kits and resources as a tool to support connections between people and the environment, between our work and the public, and between science and mātauranga Māori. Working together with community groups, iwi, hapū, school and kura, along with organisations that share similar kaupapa, 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 Tuwhera 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.
Community science: collecting and analysing eDNA samples
We work with iwi and hapū, streamcare, restoration and conservation groups, and schools and kura 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 their 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 sent to Wilderlab by the participant, where 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 participants have a choice to keep their data private, or to make it publicly available on the Wilderlab explore 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 stewardship over local environments.
We are working on developing a map specific to Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao, which will allow participants to contribute stories and context alongside results using StoryMaps.
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 visible on the Wilderlab explore map 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.
We strongly encourage that you contact your local iwi or hapū to seek permission to collect the data. We recognise the unique relationship of Māori to the environment and the active interest Māori have in biodiversity across New Zealand. 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.
The meaning of Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao
Two of our Te Herenga network kaumātua, Haupai Puke and James Doherty, gifted the name Wai Tuwhera 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.
Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao is supported by MBIE's Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund