What’s in the water? Nationwide interest in EPA programme

06 April 2021

Over 200 community groups, hapū and kura around the country have signed up to the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) nationwide environmental DNA (eDNA) programme – Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao – Open Waters Aotearoa.

The EPA’s Chief Scientist, Professor Mike Bunce, says to manage the high level of interest, groups are being coordinated by region with the help of regional councils, NZ Landcare Trust advisors and other national coordinators of water care groups.

“Our vision is to build bridges between people and nature through offering community groups and hapū access to a new tool for their kete, to help them learn more about a river, lake, estuary or wetland that is important to them.

“This programme is a great opportunity for science and mātauranga to be woven together to discover the potentials of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a tool for species discovery, environmental monitoring and protection.”

By sampling just a litre of water, groups capture remnants of DNA shed by creatures in the waterway. The eDNA data reveals all the species present – from microbes to mammals. This can indicate the overall health of the ecosystem and draw attention to creatures that are under threat or unwanted pest species.

In the coming weeks, the EPA will be sending out the eDNA kits and running webinars for participating groups. The webinars will include an introduction to eDNA and a training session to demonstrate the correct procedures for collecting eDNA water samples.

The EPA has partnered with the environmental DNA monitoring service Wilderlab who developed the water sampling kits. Once participants have taken their samples they send them back to Wilderlab to be analysed and sequenced.

It takes approximately four weeks for the results to be made available. Participants receive a password-protected link to their results, which are posted on the Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao national map.

Prof Bunce is encouraging people to get involved by connecting with participating groups in their local area and following the publicly released results on our interactive eDNA map.

“We want people to share stories about their waterway, the mahi they do to protect it, and any mātauranga, local context, or acknowledgements that should accompany the results.”

Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao coordinators intend to follow up with hui to hear about participants’ experiences and their ideas for how the data can inform their work to look after their local waterways.

Find out how to get involved, and explore the Wai Tūwhera o te Taiao map