Media release

Media release: Working together to safeguard Otago’s deepwater lakes

Friday 6 October 2023

Scientists and freshwater experts joined forces in Wānaka this week to share information about Otago’s deepwater lakes and how to safeguard them into the future.

The Knowledge into Action for Otago’s Deepwater Lakes Workshop, organised by WAI Wānaka with support from the Otago Regional Council, drew Australasian experts to discuss Otago’s significant freshwater Lakes Wānaka, Whakatipu and Hāwea.

Participants listen to a presenter at the Knowledge into Action for Otago’s Deepwater Lakes Workshop. Photo: WAI Wanaka

Participants listen to a presenter at the Knowledge into Action for Otago’s Deepwater Lakes Workshop. Photo: WAI Wanaka


Representatives from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s Office, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for the Environment, University of Otago, NIWA, Cawthron Institute, Griffith University, Manaaki Whenua and key community groups were among those at the workshop.

A number of freshwater experts presented research followed by robust discussion aimed at identifying key research questions to support evidence-based lakes management.

WAI Wānaka Trustee and Guardian of Lakes Wānaka and Hāwea member, Dr Don Robertson said, “the event marked a pivotal moment in the commitment to protect Otago's deepwater lakes. It emphasised the importance of collaboration, shared knowledge, and the determination of all stakeholders to preserve these invaluable natural resources.”

Sharing information about the lakes helps to improve understanding about how to preserve and protect them. Ongoing monitoring is important because it shows if there are any impacts from land-use activities, pests or climate change impacts which can pose serious threats to water quality, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Commitment was given by ORC to establish a deep lakes technical advisory group. This group will use the discussions from the Deep Lakes Workshop to prepare recommendations for consideration by ORC’s recently formed Otago Inland Deep Lakes Management Working Group.

ORC Chair Gretchen Robertson says “the Otago Regional Council recognises the special nature of these deep lakes. ORC have prioritised the care of these iconic waterbodies through the establishment of a Deep Lakes Governance Group.”

This is chaired by Cr Robertson and incorporates Ministry for the Environment, council, iwi, and WAI Wānaka and Guardians of Lake Wānaka member, Dr Robertson.

“Identifying key research needs through the establishment of a technical advisory group has been a goal of this governance group, we’re so pleased that WAI Wānaka led this really valuable event.”

“It’s a matter pride and responsibility that these lakes are cared for as the national taonga (treasures) they are. It was fantastic to see crown agencies, councils and community catchment groups coming together with a huge diversity of leading national scientists to share ideas on better understanding and thus caring for these lakes,” Cr Robertson said.

“We’re blessed to have many willing custodians, dedicated community groups included. To ensure we’re collectively doing all we can to look after our ‘Great Lakes’, we need a better understanding of these vast waterbodies, especially given their dynamic climatic and human development settings,” Cr Robertson said.

Dr Robertson said, “The formation of this group will enable the bridging of the gaps between catchment-based initiatives to enhance inflowing water quality and the actual quality of lakes water. We know what is being done in the catchments, but we have not been able to measure whether catchment improvements have made a difference to lakes health.”

WAI Wānaka Chair, Dr Amanda Bell said the workshop has been a catalyst for action to revitalise te taiao for the great lakes and to accelerate action for freshwater.

“A key win has been developing relationships and shared understandings across science and research, local and central government and community groups. Having the Otago Regional Council Chair, Chief Executive and other key staff present sends a really strong message to us. This community is ready, willing and able to be part of the solutions that are going to come from this workshop.”