The keynote speaker for the first day of the National Wetlands Symposium was Guy Salmon and his speech was largely about the failure of governance, at both regional and national level, to protect our water resources. Guy also explained how wetlands had received poor support in the past because of the difficulty in defining what they are, they are not just land or water but a combination of the two.
Guy is a member of the Land and Water Forum which represents 62 organisations who come together to make policy recommendations regarding land and freshwater management. The Forum's 2010 document, "A Fresh Start for Fresh Water", contained policies that were intended to influence the National policy Statement for Fresh Water Management. However the Government's water rules had some major deficiencies according to Mr Salmon and the Forum has now been asked to make recommendations on methods, tools and governance processes that could better manage water quality and quantity. A further report will be made to the Government this year.
Guy expressed the view that the current poor state of our rivers and lakes is due to central government ignoring the issues and regional governance being dominated by farmers (while farmers make up 1% of our population, they comprise 35% of regional councils). He felt the FPP system that elects regional councils results in few or no representatives from iwi or those with environmental interests and such people would provide greater balance in decision making.
While Nick Smith's resignation today may slow the process, Mr Salmon explained his concerns regarding the proposed changes to local governance, especially if we end up with unitary authorities and therefor losing our regional councils. He explained how the environmental focus of regional councils will be replaced by governance with greater commercial interests and the loss of many valuable and experienced staff. Guy was also concerned that the process of local body change will not be managed in an informed or fully democratic way. He urged all of us to be proactive in ensuring that the public become fully aware about what may be lost.
While Guy's speech provided a bit of a dark cloud over the symposium the majority of day was spent in brilliant sunshine beside the sparkling, but threatened, Waituna Lagoon.
Polly from DoC explaining how new plantings are being managed on retired farmland.
Dean Whaanga explaining the Maori history of the region.
The Waituna Lagoon, looking beyond the bar towards Bluff Hill and Stewart Island.
One indicator to the health of the lagoon is the presence of the macrophyte, Ruppia.
DoC Scientist, Hugh Robertson, explaining the importance of Ruppia within the lagoon ecosystem.
Lloyd Esler doing what he does best, making natural history both entertaining and educational.
The white sand visible in the middle of the picture is where the opening was made (Ruapuke Island just visible behind)
The Lagoon from the observation platform.