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  • It is going to take all of us working together to rebuild the health of our rivers and streams. In this story, we meet Dr Amanda Valois who is working to build community connections and engagement with freshwater health.

    This is part of the series In Her Nature: New Zealand women changing the way we connect with the world around us, meeting New Zealand women working at the intersection of people and nature. These stories are a feature for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2020.

    Rights: NIWA

    Dr Amanda Valois

    Dr Amanda Valois leading a community group testing water quality in a local stream.

    Studying freshwater species of all shapes and sizes

    Dr Amanda Valois is a freshwater ecologist at NIWA in Wellington and passionate about community conservation. She received her PhD studying some of New Zealand’s smallest freshwater species – tiny plankton-like copepods and the even tinier fungal organisms that infect them. She sees people as the key to protecting New Zealand’s rivers, streams and estuaries.

    “It became very clear to me that, if I’m going to work in this ecosystem, I have to understand all aspects of different types of animals that come into this ecosystem, which includes human animals too. Now, I feel like I’m trying to understand how humans interact with the water and the places I love.”

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Discarded plastic bottle

    New Zealanders use and discard approximately 20,000 tonnes of PET plastic each year. Some of it ends up as rubbish in our waterways and beaches.

    Her research focuses on outreach and communication, investigating how to make water quality tools and information more accessible to the public. She is particularly interested in monitoring and documenting plastic pollution in our streams and in collectively finding ways to reduce the waste going into our waterways and impacting on our aquatic ecosystems. The first step is bringing people along with her on the journey, helping them connect with the value of the waterways around them.

    “From them just telling me a story about their favourite stream or where they grew up, I can start to get a little bit of a place where I can connect with them. Say they like swimming in this area, I can take that narrative and then take them along on a journey about swimming and how litter or other pollutants impact their stream, how it impacts them.”

    Rights: NIWA

    Testing water clarity

    Dr Amanda Valois and a NIWA colleague checking water clarity.

    The power of two-way information

    Amanda believes that cleaning up our waterways is going to be community driven, that it will take scientists and the public working together to find meaningful solutions.

    “There’s no way that the number of scientists we have in New Zealand can fix everything. And I think you need to have everybody on board when it comes to our environmental health, especially in the field of plastics and waste management, where it’s just huge. It’s a massive issue.”

    Her projects are focused on increasing connection and knowledge amongst communities, as well as enabling quality data and information to be fed back into scientific practice.

    “A key part of participatory research for me is that the flow of knowledge is bidirectional. If there is a person collecting data for a scientist, they’re still feeding their knowledge and their values back up to the science or management institutions, so it’s not just a downward flow of instruction from scientist to volunteer. It needs to be both ways.”

    Related content

    Find out more about Water quality.

    Ideas for stream restoration for the conservation of native freshwater fish can be explored in Native fish in the city.

    In Students help restore mauri to the Oruarangi Stream, discover how this Participatory Science Platform project worked to restore mauri to the local awa (stream/river).

    Plastic is a wicked problem. It’s incredibly useful, but it’s also a huge environmental issue. A helpful resource is Thinking about plastic – planning pathways, which includes our interactive planning pathway. Use this to begin a cross-curricular look at plastics.

    Find out about the Ocean Plastic Simulator – an interactive computer tool that shows where virtual plastic is likely to end up when it is dropped in the ocean.

    Read the Connected article Down the drain to see how students in Petone, Lower Hutt, took action to prevent rubbish from entering their local marine environment.

    The article Working as a scientist provides a brief overview of some of the many scientists featured on the Hub. Use it to discover some of the reasons people choose a science-related career and some of the things you can do if you are curious to begin a career in science.

    Useful links

    Use these Pinterest boards for more profiles of people working in science.

    Find out more about Amanda and her work in these resources:


    This article was written by Anastasia Turnbull.

      Published 8 February 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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