• Guidance

Monitoring estuaries in a changing world: Lessons for designing long-term monitoring programmes

This guidance outlines key lessons for managers to consider when designing long-term monitoring programmes for estuaries (July 2021)



The 7 lessons in this guidance were learned from the Manukau Marine Ecology Monitoring Programme, one of the longest, ongoing estuary monitoring programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand, and informed by research from our Tipping Points project.


Long-term marine monitoring programmes are one of the only ways that we can:
  • Define the state of the environment
  • Understand the causes and magnitude of natural variability
  • Provide baseline information so environmental changes related to management decisions can be detected
  • Identify changes driven by manageable, human-driven stressors
  • Show and track key trends to inform future management strategies


The 7 key lessons for designing long-term estuary monitoring programmes in a changing world are:
  • Lesson 1: Principles of design to be decided upon at the start of the programme
  • Lesson 2: Undertake reviews at fixed time intervals to ensure the monitoring programme is cost-effective, yet provides quality, robust data
  • Lesson 3: Analyses of long-term data can detect multi-year cyclic trends and patterns that short-term data cannot
  • Lesson 4: Temporal variability can influence the ability to detect tipping points, therefore it is important to consider climate patterns in programme design and analyses
  • Lesson 5: To detect tipping points, sampling more than twice per year is an optimal frequency
  • Lesson 6: Community analyses are much stronger than single-species analyses for detecting small changes
  • Lesson 7: The length, continuity and consistency of a dataset will determine its ability to predict approaching tipping points or determine whether one has passed

Please download and read the guidance for full information and references. This guidance is intended for regional council managers, or people designing estuary monitoring programmes. 

  • Monitoring estuaries in a changing world: Lessons for designing long-term monitoring programmes

    2.6 MB | Adobe Acrobat PDF file

    July 2021