Science Blog – historic research

Community Wellbeing


Healthy Ecosystems

Risks to our Catchment

Wānaka Water Project

Ash Rabel

Kia ora koutou, my name’s Ash and I’m the Science Co-ordinator at WAI Wānaka.

Part of my job here at WAI is keeping up to date on research within our region. This blog is the first of a three-part series highlighting key environmental research that WAI has contracted and research conducted by other agencies from across Aotearoa. I hope this update piques your interest – just click on the links to find out more. 

Why are we interested in studying the lakes?

You might be surprised to know relatively little is known about the deep alpine lakes in our region. Research about the physical characteristics and ecology of the lakes started off in the late 1960s through the 1970s, and peaked in the 1980’s. Research from then through to the early 2010’s has been rather sporadic and targeted on discrete questions. The lakes are under pressure from the growing rural and urban populations in the Upper Clutha Basin. WAI Wānaka believes that there is a need to better understand the human impacts on Lakes Hāwea and Wānaka, to ensure that science informs future management decisions.


WAI Wānaka contracted two research reports between 2019-2021 on the behaviour of stormwater within Wānaka’s urban area. One focussed on how land use effects the health of the urban streams, and the other focused on understanding the contaminants entering these streams after rain events.

Both reports show that our urban streams are starting to show signs of stress. If you are interested in reading more about these studies, both summaries and the full reports are available here.

In 2018 Wānaka was fortunate to be chosen for a social science study, led by Simone Langhans (a Marie Curie Fellow), as part of an international project aiming at developing a better way of incorporating cultural values and local knowledge into community ecological restoration and management plans. This important study played a key role in the evolution of the Community Catchment Plan. WAI Wānaka continues to work with key stakeholders to make progress towards the 60 actions in the Community Catchment Plan. Keep an eye on our website for updates on the actions in early 2022.

More recently we have been supporting Aaliyah, a summer intern from the Pūhoro STEMM Academy, to conduct a survey of Tuna (longfin eels) in the Upper Clutha basin using environmental DNA testing. The three big questions that Aaliyah has started to investigate are: 

  1. Where were the historic populations located?
  2. Are Tuna still present in the basin? If so, where?
  3. Identify areas where Tuna have disappeared.

Aaliyah’s work will be published on WAI Wānaka’s website in late February 2022 and she will be writing a blog about her experiences. Read some more about her time at WAI so far here.

If you enjoyed this blog, keep an eye out for the next one. There’s some exciting stuff coming up in the region!

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