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Ecosystem health – the perceptions and the reality. Abbie Spiers PhD candidate Institute for Land, Water & Society Charles Sturt University. Blackmore River, rural Darwin. Permanent lagoon on Blackmore River (Spiers/Martins property), northern Australia

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ecosystem health the perceptions and the reality

Ecosystem health – the perceptions and the reality

Abbie Spiers

PhD candidate

Institute for Land, Water & Society

Charles Sturt University

blackmore river rural darwin
Blackmore River, rural Darwin

Permanent lagoon on Blackmore River (Spiers/Martins property), northern Australia

Managed for conservation under ‘Land for Wildlife’ scheme

work background
Work background

Multidisciplinary interests

  • wetlands &wetland management
  • science communication and social issues, mediation

Institute for Land Water & Society, Charles Sturt Univ.

  • supports multidisciplinary research in Australia and internationally

Biological monitoring programs in Kakadu National Park

Involvement in various research projects including:

Global review of wetland resources for Ramsar

Coordination of study tours for wetland managers

Technician exchange to Papua New Guinea

Coordination of science communication activities, e.g. workshops & conferences, publications, World Wetlands Day

Consultant mediator, Northern Territory government

nz wetland facts
NZ wetland facts

“...64% of monitored lakes in pastoral landscapes are already classed eutrophic or worse. Declining water quality impacts on biodiversity, aquatic ecosystems and instream uses. It can affect human and animal health. It affects the credibility of our international brand.”

Land & Water Forum report (2010)

90% of wetlands lost in 200 years of ‘reclaiming’, draining, etc

Many remaining wetlands are degraded and their biodiversity severely depleted; some wetland types face extinctionAusseil (2010)

Many catchments are over-allocated or approaching full allocation

Many rivers frequently exceed recomm. levels of nutrient concentrations &faecal bacteria

Water clarity is often poor

Phosphate & nitrogen fertiliser use is high

Diffuse discharges (nutrients, sediment, microbes) now greatly exceed point source pollution(Land & Water Forum 2010)

“the overall status of New Zealand’s wetlands can be considered to be poor”(Hughey et al 2010)

sustainable nz
Sustainable NZ

Green industries



Ecological health- defined in terms of ‘system organization, resilience and vigour, as well as the absence of signs of ecosystem distress’ (Rapport et al 1998)

Ecological integrity

  • “The degree to which the physical, chemical and biological components (including composition, structure, and process) of an ecosystem and their relationships are present, functioning and maintained close to a minimally impacted reference condition.” (Schallenberg et al. 2011)
  • Assessing the ecological integrity of sites with inadequate information on reference conditions may require use of a ‘nearest-neighbour reference condition’ or a predicted reference condition.

Ecological character (Ramsar)

  • Relates to the combination of ecosystem components, processes, benefits or services that characterise a wetland at a given point in time.
  • “...we use this construct to link human wellbeing with ecological character through the services that a wetland provides so that human well-being is included in wetland assessments...” (Horwitz & Finlayson 2011)
research questions
Research questions

From literature and ‘big picture’ research…

  • Do New Zealanders’ perceptions of ecosystem health in New Zealand differ from the reality?
  • For New Zealanders who are working to make New Zealand more clean and green, what are their primary motivations? (and how this relates to wetlands)

From interviews & case studies of long-term projects…

  • What have been their experiences since taking action for wetlands?
  • What support do these individuals or community groups need, to help ensure their efforts are sustained in the longer-term?
  • How can we better encourage and motivate others to help make wetlands healthier?
to investigate in turn
To investigate, in turn:
  • Scientific concepts of ecosystem health, wetland health and integrity, sustainability and restoration ecology (literature)
  • Community interviews and discussion groups
  • A small number of wetland case studies to explore in more detail both the scientific and wider community concepts:

e.g. “Has this wetland changed? How has that affected you and/or the way you use the wetland? What is your vision for this wetland in the future?”

...What different views exist in the wider community? How are they reconciled? How can we help future wetland projects?

your advice is welcome
Your advice is welcome!

Relevant data sources & literature, e.g.

  • Health and ecological integrity of NZ wetlands
  • Extent of impacts, e.g. data on wetland drainage, erosion, eutrophication, agrichemical usage, land use changes

Potential case studies – long-term projects that have been initiated by individuals/community

Potential interviewees

abbie spiers

Abbie Spiers

ph 0276150352