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  • Through the years, there’s been a shift in how science is communicated. We’ve always appreciated the generosity of the scientists we’ve approached to use their research as a context to embed and illustrate key science concepts. It’s very exciting for us to be on the receiving end – for science researchers to approach us to communicate and add value to their work!

    Lakes380 – Our lakes’ health: past, present, future

    In mid 2022, we had the opportunity to meet some of the team working on Lakes380 – a research programme jointly led by the Cawthron Institute and GNS Science. Lakes380 is the largest scientific study ever undertaken on lakes in Aotearoa. The team sampled around 10% of the 3,800 lakes larger than 1 hectare (about the size of a rugby field). The intrepid researchers journeyed around the motu sampling lakes and sometimes relying on helicopters to get them (and a lot of gear) into some very remote locations. They developed new scientific protocols to gain information from sediment cores that capture many centuries of lake environmental history and used environmental DNA and a host of other analyses to survey what’s living in the lakes and catchment areas. The data they’ve collected is groundbreaking, and it’s being shared widely in Aotearoa and globally.

    Connecting with lake advocates around Aotearoa

    The Lakes380 team held knowledge-sharing events with local iwi and other interested parties in each of the regions they sampled. These were attended by iwi, regional council and Department of Conservation staff, members of lake protection groups and landowners. The team demonstrated how they collect samples, including retrieving a sediment core and splitting it to provide a first insight into environmental changes in the lake. They described how the results from the research can be applied to lake rehabilitation and understanding the causes for lake health deterioration.

    These lakeside events also provided an opportunity for locals and iwi members, who often have multi-generational knowledge of the lakes passed down from their tūpuna, to share their knowledge on the history of the lake and what it was like in the past. These knowledge-sharing days have enabled the Lakes380 team to establish enduring relationships with iwi and others invested in protecting our lakes and to better understand the priorities of our lake kaitiaki.

    Incorporating mātauranga Māori and oral histories

    Lakes380 draws on both scientific and mātauranga Māori knowledge systems. The team engaged with iwi and hapū to understand and learn from their mātauranga and oral histories. They’ve partnered with iwi in four locations to examine the cultural and environmental histories of significant roto.

    Check out the following links to see the depth of content this partnership has created:

    When creating a ‘virtual world’ for Lake Moawhitu, we also engaged with community groups and iwi to collect historical information about the local people and their relationship with the lake and the land surrounding it. Whilst the scientific data we collected from lake sediment cores has shown us what the lake would have looked like, including the vegetation surrounding it and the animals and plants that lived in it, the oral histories helped us understand the relationship the people of Ngāti Koata have with Moawhitu.

    Mckayla Holloway – Lakes380 Science Communicator

    Inspiring the next generation of lake scientists

    The Lakes380 team provided opportunities for ākonga to see what it’s like to get hands-on experience as biologists and paleolimnologists. The scientists held a number of education workshops at schools in the Nelson area. In one of the activities, ākonga used magnetic fishing rods to collect information about the presence and population size of organisms living in their lake ecosystem – using reference images to interpret and match the eDNA sequences, creating a data collection chart and even practising ‘peer review’ of their results! The Lakes380 team has generously shared this energetic activity with the Hub.

    Ākonga also got a taste of what happens in the lab. They sampled a replica sediment core to find small containers of algae and 3D printed pollen spores – a simplified model of the actual subsampling and laboratory analyses, which helped them to understand how digging through lake mud can tell us about the history of a lake and how this has influenced its current-day health.

    During our work in schools around the Nelson area, we’ve been really impressed at how well students have grasped complex concepts such as environmental DNA and paleolimnology and how we can use these techniques to travel back in time, analysing sediment cores and exploring the history of a lake.

    Jonathan Puddick – Lakes380 Researcher

    Collaborating with the Hub

    The Hub team has enjoyed working with the various researchers from the Cawthron Institute and GNS Science to create the suite of new Hub resources on lake science and the Lakes380 research programme. The Lakes380 team has a wonderful mix of different specialities – paleolimnology, freshwater ecology, algal biochemistry and science communication – leading to a great synergy of ideas. They also embrace the challenge of using science outreach and innovative communications mediums to share findings from the Lakes380 programme with iwi, tamariki and rangatahi and the wider public. We really appreciate the enthusiasm and knowledge they have contributed to this collaboration.

    Related content

    Following is a list of Lakes380 resources. They are grouped by themes, and the underlying science and cultural concepts mentioned in this article are interwoven among each of the resources.


    Mātauranga Māori:

    Science, social sciences and local curriculum:

    Check out our context for learning – it provides curriculum information, presents some of the key concepts in science, mātauranga Māori and social sciences and has ideas on how to use the resources.

    Useful links

    Visit the Lakes380 website to find information about:


    This resource has been developed in collaboration with Lakes380 – Our lakes’ health: past present, future (C05X1707), Cawthron Institute and GNS Science.

    Published 13 March 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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