Posted on 29 October 2018

Success factors for marine conservation planning: a case study

A recently completed Sustainable Seas Challenge research project has examined the Kaituna River re-diversion as a case study for how best to involve and engage communities and Māori in marine resource management.

After decades of debate, many technical reports, and much community deliberation, the Kaituna River is being partially rediverted into Maketū Estuary to improve the estuary habitat. This will recreate at least 20 hectares of wetland habitat and replenish kaimoana. River flow to the sea will be retained for boating access and flood protection. The diversion work is expected to be completed by June 2020.

Community participation has been critical to getting the project off the ground, promoting local ownership, embedding values of stewardship and kaitiakitanga, and supporting implementation.

Challenge researcher Dr Patrick Barrett (University of Waikato) evaluated the social and ecological factors underlying the successful implementation of this strategy. His research team, including Prof Priya Kurian and Dr Naomi Simmonds (University of Waikato), interviewed key individuals and groups involved in the design and planning process, and reviewed archives dating back to 1956 when the river mouth was first diverted.

There has been conflict in the past and competing ideas on the restoration of the estuary. So, developing “a solution that everyone can live with” was key to the process, explains Dr Barrett. “Communities who are affected need to be included as it leads to better, more effective decision-making. It also enhances the likelihood of successful implementation.”

While the study found that science was important in developing the restoration strategy, the planning process was ultimately a social and political activity. The case reinforces the merits of planning approaches that emphasise co-creation and co-design, and attempts to integrate scientific ways of knowing with local traditional knowledge.

The team’s social science approach allowed them to show how politics, ideas and engagement strategies all contributed to the outcome. The re-diversion strategy development process succeeded because it provided the opportunity for multiple perspectives to be heard and fostered mutual learning among participants, allowing the development of a common vision. 

The case study provides noteworthy examples of local traditional knowledge being incorporated into technical designs, improving the likelihood of effective outcomes. Dr Barrett commented, “The fact is that our knowledge about conservation in marine environments is characterised by uncertainty. Planning approaches that draw on different types of knowledge are a way of managing that uncertainty.” This insight suggests that scientists and engineers engaged in planning processes will be more effective acting as informed facilitators than as subject experts.

Journal article

Barrett P, Kurian P, Simmonds N & Cretney R (2019). Community participation in the development of the Ōngātoro/Maketū Estuary project: The socio-ecological dimensions of restoring an interconnected ecosystem. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 1-14. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.3048

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We examined how the Kaituna River re-diversion strategy was developed, to identify success factors in stakeholder and iwi engagement that co…