Ground-breaking science set to help Te Kauwhata lake restoration

Tawera Nikau says the iwi is excited to see the empty land filled with maanuka.
CAITLIN WALLACE/FAIRFAX NZ

Tawera Nikau says the iwi is excited to see the empty land filled with maanuka.

Polluted Lake Waikare in the North Waikato is set to be the first subject in a new maanuka planting research project to help bring it back to life.

The maanuka​ to be planted on  Nikau Farm Estate Trust land of which Tawera Nikau is a shareholder, is expected to kill the nitrate and e-coli bacteria from farm run-off which would have otherwise been leaked into lake. 

The collaboration between Nga Muka Ltd, Te Riu o Waikato Ltd, Matahuru Marae and Waikato Regional Council has received five-year funding from the Waikato River Authority. 

It's a project that has been tested by the the Institute of Environmental Science and Research [ESR] in a lab to tackle sewage sludge.

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But it's the first time it would be implemented on land, ESR lead scientist Jacqui Horswell​ said.

"This is the first time we've gone from a big bucket of soil to the big wide world."

Horswell was taken aback seeing the lake.

"It just makes you want to cry when you look at it, it's just awful."

She said this was just a "baby step" towards restoration of the lake but it's just one of the projects that had taken place under the Nikau Farm Estate Trust. 

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This time however, scientific testing would take place. 

It's expected testing directly into the soil would take place in a couple of years time, she said.

She said it had been "fantastic" having the local iwi and Nikau being so welcoming and eager to get on board.

Local school children, community members, ESR staff and research students from the United States will be part of planting the estimated 10,000 plants over a few days starting June 25.

Anyone in the community was welcome to come along, Horswell said.

In fact, she encouraged as many people as possible to learn about the resource and how to look after it. 

"With the issues we're facing, we can't just be based on science, it's social science and it's cultural science... the more the community puts in, the better."

Nikau said while maanuka had been part of the 100,000 plants already put in the ground over the past three years, scientific results would help the cause. 

"It's a major contribution factor, if we can show that it can make a difference, then that's going to have a big impact."

Nikau said he'd already noticed positive changes with increased wildlife at the lake. 

His desire to bring the lake back to its natural state goes back to his grandparents' stories about the lake being a "food basket"  with eels and fish. 

"We think it's our duty as kaitiaki, or guardians, of the land... water is one of the most precious things in the world."

While it would take a long time to restore the lake, the hard work would pay off by educating the current generation, he said.

"In 50 years, you'll see a healthy and blooming lake." 

If you'd like to help on June 25, meet at Matahuru Marae at 9am with gumboots, high vis and a spade. 

 

 - Stuff

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