Experts join forces to improve land to sea ecosystem management

Participants in a workshop at Leigh Marine Laboratory in Auckland from 2-4 April

Aotearoa New Zealand’s environment is changing. To protect our ecosystems and avoid long-term detrimental changes we need to manage across land, freshwater and marine ecosystem boundaries say experts at a recent workshop.

20 local and international researchers – with expertise in ecology, social science, indigenous studies, economics and system modelling – met at the University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory to discuss new ways of solving complex environmental management issues.

Research has shown that best-practice management can increase ecosystem resilience to change.

“By managing land, freshwater and marine resources separately, we ignore important connections and feedbacks,” explains Prof Conrad Pilditch, from the University of Waikato and leader of Dynamic Seas. “This is our first attempt to find solutions to holistically manage connections between these ecosystems.”

The aim is to avoid tipping points, where an ecosystem changes rapidly leading to significant damage or loss of function that is difficult to recover from.

By bringing together a range of disciplines and perspectives, the researchers are reviewing findings that could to support better management decisions. In turn, these will help to preserve ecosystems and the benefits they provide for future generations.

“One key issue we identified is a mismatch between the speed of environmental change and the societal lag in implementing new management strategies. For example, the effects of excess nutrients on aquatic ecosystems are well documented, but it takes a long time to take action to mitigate them,” says Prof Pilditch.

The principles identified during this workshop are being developed into recommendations for discussion with government decision-makers to help improve the health and resilience of New Zealand’s ecosystems.

The workshop was jointly organised and funded by the Sustainable Seas and Biological Heritage National Science Challenges.

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Participants in the ecosystem management workshop at Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland from 2–4 April 2019. [From L to R] Alf Norkko (University of Helsinki, Finland), Steven Lade (Stockholm University, Sweden), Helen Warburton (University of Canterbury), Richard Le Heron and George Perry (University of Auckland), Judi Hewitt (University of Auckland/NIWA), Dan Hikuroa (University of Auckland), Johanna Yletyinen and Suzie Greenhalgh (Maanaki Whenua Landcare Research), Vasilis Dakos (CNRS, France), David Schiel (University of Canterbury), Simon Thrush (University of Auckland), Emily Douglas (NIWA), Rebecca Gladstone-Gallagher (University of Auckland) and Conrad Pilditch (University of Waikato), Jason Tylianakis (University of Canterbury), and Ewa Siwicka (University of Auckland, absent).