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Actions for the Awa

Actions for the Awa

Kia Mouriora Te Kaiwharawhara Sanctuary to Sea - Small Actions Equal Big Impacts

Have you ever felt refreshed or invigorated after spending time near or in an awa/river? It is a sensory experience; the chuckling sounds of flowing water, the earthy scent of riverside undergrowth, the mesmerising flow of eddies, ripples and pools, and with a closer look you may spot some of our aquatic species that call awa their home. Gaining a sense of clarity and appreciation from this can be considered as sharing in the mouri of the awa.

The Māori concept of mouri/life force or energy helps us to understand the purpose of our awa. Awa are natural carriers and deliverers of mouri and if an awa has been cared for, its mouri will be healthier and stronger than one that has been compromised by human exploitation and destruction.

So how do we restore the mouri of an awa?

This is a complex task, but Kia Mouriora Te Kaiwharawhara Sanctuary to Sea (KMK/S2S) is trying to tackle it. Now five years into its 100-year goal of restoring the mouri of the Kaiwharawhara catchment, the project seeks to put the Kaiwharawhara in its rightful place as an essential piece in the healthy-ecosystem puzzle, and a source of kai/food, recreation, knowledge, and healing.

KMK/S2S is a collaborative project to its core. It is the central platform onto which anyone keen on restoring the Kaiwharawhara and contributing in any way, can climb aboard, meet like-minded people, gain the tools and knowledge needed, and take action.

Ecological resilience is the environment’s ability to maintain a functioning ecosystem through changing climates and extreme weather events. Biodiversity has a huge positive impact on ecological resiliency and mouri and can be directly improved by individuals and small groups working locally to restore their awa and surrounding ecosystems.

Here are some steps you can take to improve the mouri and biodiversity of your neighbourhood awa.

  1. Plant native plants and trees on your property and remove invasive weeds.

These plants and trees provide resilience to flooding and sedimentation, habitats and kai for birds and invertebrates, shelter from exposure, and the ideal, shady environment that many native species such as ferns and mosses thrive under.

Planting alongside awa not only helps to reduce the risk of erosion from excess stormwater runoff, but the resulting shade also helps to reduce the temperature to closer to when thick native canopy covered most streams throughout Aotearoa. Our native species have adapted to this cooler water and now warmer stream temperatures result in less viable habitats for our native species and makes space for invasive species to dominate freshwater ecosystems.

  1. Reduce water use and stormwater emissions.

Rainfall naturally leads to increased flow in our awa, and sometimes natural flooding, but the intensification of our suburbs (more houses in smaller spaces) is causing excess amounts of stormwater to go into awa and cause harmful effects. ‘Non water soluble’ surfaces, such as concrete, do not absorb water and instead sends it straight into our stormwater drainage systems. This excessive water, especially in high rainfall events, causes high rivers and flooding which can cause damage to ecosystems, habitats, and human property.

However, by having ‘water soluble’ surfaces around our homes, like soil, plant matter, sand or gravel, this water can be absorbed and drain away slowly. This slows down the amount of water entering our awa and stormwater which reduces flooding, erosion and pollution.

You can also install a water tank or recycle your greywater to reduce your water use and stormwater runoff. When it rains, the first 10mm of rainfall in intensified areas picks up any contaminants along the non-water-soluble surfaces and carries this into our freshwater. This quick change in water quality and level cause more harm overall to aquatic species than larger storm and flood events. Most aquatic species can adapt to considerable changes in awa flow but are sensitive to pollution and sudden, frequent changes brought on by smaller rain events. Water tanks allow that first 10mm of rain to be retained and released slowly which helps mitigate this issue.

  1. Wash and maintain your car in an awa friendly way.

Combustion engine vehicles cause pollution in more ways than just carbon emissions. Vehicles leach trace elements of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, zinc and nickel. These get deposited on the surfaces of roads, cars, and houses as ’road dust’. When it rains, this road dust gets washed into the stormwater systems and into our streams, polluting them.

Performing regular vehicle maintenance is one of the most effective things you can do to recuce the impact from your vehicle. These address and prevent any leaking of toxic chemicals from your vehicle.

How you wash your car also makes a big difference to what enters our freshwater. When you use a carwash service at a petrol station, the water is treated with a sump before entering the stormwater system. If washing at home, you can prevent dirty water entering the stormwater by cleaning on grass or gravel which filters the water and keeps most pollutants out of the stormwater.

Brake pads have come a long way since the 70’s when they contained asbestos, but they’re still made from toxic materials that don’t break down in the environment. Copper brake pads are favourable for car manufacturers for their ability to reduce unwanted squealing noises when breaking and heat conduction, however copper flakes occur every time you use your brakes. These flakes are distributed into the environment, resulting in toxic levels of copper in our waterways.

The good news is that copper free/low copper brake pad alternatives exist with no compromise on performance and noise profile. The next time you get your brake pads replaced for a WOF or service, ask for a copper-free set. These sets usually cost a little bit more but result in significant harm reduction to waterways everywhere you drive.

  1. Responsible paintbrush washing

Paint is one of the most widely used materials in the world, and its use and consumption are only increasing due to urbanization and aesthetic requirements. Paint is traditionally full of harmful chemicals and some acrylic paints include plastic components, and when the paint is disregarded in our waterways, the paint particles become a hazard known as microplastics.

You can make a sustainable choice when it comes to purchasing your paint. For example, Resene offers various environmental-choice approved paints. When cleaning up, avoid disposing of your paint and tainted water down the stormwater, as this doesn’t get treated before entering our streams. Instead take your paint water to your local petrol station or city council refuse center for disposal, both of which will have special drains for treating liquid waste. You can also squeeze excess paint from brushes and rollers onto disposable materials like cardboard or wood. Try cleaning your paintbrushes/roller in a bucket and once washed, transfer them to another bucket with water and rinse. Wait until morning to sort out the paint bucket water as the paint solids would have settled to the bottom. The water can be poured onto the garden or grassed area away from waterways.

  1. Trap invasive pest species in your neighbourhood

Trapping species like possums, rats and mice can have a big impact in your backyard. If you want to find out what species might be hanging around first, try putting a chew card out in your garden. These cards are made from a type of plastic called corflute and lined with something tasty like peanut butter. You can tell what has had a nibble based on what the teeth marks look like.

Once you know what predators you might have around, you can put out traps. There are a range of different types to pick from depending on what species you are targeting. The Department of Conservation have resources online which can help you pick what is best for your site.

If you live in Wellington, you're likely to live in a suburb with an active Predator Free Wellington group. They provide advice and access to traps, including information on what to do if you live in an area that doesn't have an active trapping group.

These are just a few of the many ways we can all contribute restoring the mouri of our awa. Additional opportunities to help restore the catchment often arise with community groups coordinating volunteer days and working bees. If you are interested in contributing to these efforts, don’t be afraid to get in contact and volunteer for an hour or two, you’ll almost certainly make some new connections with positive like-minded people. Healthy, restored waterways is a reality New Zealanders can be proud to work towards. No matter how many generations it takes, every bit of help has exponential positive effects.

Resources for getting involved or more information:

A list of environmental community groups who organise volunteering days.

A list of upcoming working bees and projects being run by Trelissick Park Group.

A list of hardy native plants you can plant in your Wellington back yard.

A list of invasive plant species for removal and replacement.

To calculate the m2 of your roof for rainwater harvesting calculations.

To calculate how much rainwater your roof could collect in a month according to location and roof m2.

Further information on rainwater requirements and setting up your own rainwater barrel/tank.Stormwater retention tank options.

More information on the effect of brake pads on the environment.

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