Connect with freshwater habitats | Sustainable Coastlines

Freshwater homes

We can’t live without fresh water, and neither can the plants and animals in our environment. Water is in a constant cycle: it evaporates into the atmosphere and returns to the land as snow and rain. 

Aotearoa has a range of freshwater environments. Ice and snow in the mountains give way to rivers and streams, which eventually flow into the ocean. There’s also water deep underground, and freshwater wetlands that act as filters. Our native animals live in all of these places.

Sacred awa, invaluable habitat

Horizonal image_rivers

On the land’s surface, lakes, rivers / awa and ponds are the most common freshwater environments. Tangata whenua have strong connections to their awa as part of their genealogy because fresh water sustains the taniwha and protects wāhi tapu (sacred areas).

Many of our native freshwater fauna live in rivers and streams, and may separate themselves into slow-flowing water, pools or rapids depending on the oxygen levels, nutrients, temperatures and sedimentation. One way scientists can assess stream water quality is by looking at which faunal communities are present! Here are some of our lake and river dwellers.

Credit Flickr : epitree

Kōura / crayfish

Image: Flickr/epitree

Did you know that we have native crayfish in our fresh water? Our little kōura grow up to 80mm long and do most of their movement at night. When frightened, they flick their tail forward violently, shooting themselves back into their shelter.

pomahaka-rankle-burn-1200_Daniel Jack DOC


Image: Pomahaka galaxias, Daniel Jack, Department of Conservation

These scaleless fish are named for their galaxy-like gold flecks and patterns. Some of our galaxiid species migrate to sea to breed, but others live their entire lives where they hatch. We have 25 species of galaxiids here, including the īnanga and kōkopu. Some species, such as the banded, giant and shortjaw kōkopu, are found nowhere but Aotearoa. Others, such as the clutha galaxiid, are only found in a single catchment!

Did you know juvenile galaxiids are what we call ‘whitebait’?

Torrentfish - Stella McQueen

Panoko / torrentfish

Image: Stella McQueen, Creative Commons

The English name, torrentfish, says it all. These fish live in white rapids and use their flat head and pectoral fins to anchor to the riverbed. Panoko are part of the family ‘Cheimarrichthyidae’, but are its only known species!

Water underground

Horizonal image_underground water

Groundwater and cave habitats are valuable underground water stores, and may support the water table even when rivers run dry over summer. They are very dark, so they can’t support plant life. Despite this, animals survive here, relying on food that comes from outside the system.



Image: Phreatogammarus fragilis, ‘fragile well shrimp’, Sciblogs, Nelson Boustead

We don’t give much thought to our underground waters, but stygofauna spend their entire lives there! The term ‘stygofauna’ collectively refers to fauna that live in groundwater systems.

In Aotearoa, these range from crustaceans and gastropod snails to flatworms and beetles. Some even live 20 metres below ground level. We have a huge diversity of species in Aotearoa: there are 130 known, but experts think there could be as many as 450 species here.

More than swamps

Horizonal image_wetland

Wetlands are areas where the water table is at or near the land surface, making it permanently or temporarily covered in either fresh water or salt water. These habitats are important for preventing floods, catching sediment, supporting nutrient cycles and supporting native species like tuna / eels. Sadly, Aotearoa has lost more than 90 percent of its wetlands to make way for farms and houses.

Longfin eel _ tuna

Tuna / eels

At up to two metres long, the longfin tuna is one of the largest eels in the world. They live only in Aotearoa, except for a trip to somewhere near Tonga or east of New Caledonia for breeding — amazingly, the exact location is still unknown!

Find out more from our sources

Freshwater habitats
Department of Conservation

Groundwater habitats

Department of Conservation

Wetland Trust

Kōura / freshwater crayfish
Department of Conservation


Panoko / torrentfish
Science Learning Hub

Tuna / longfin eel
Manaaki Tuna

Department of Conservation
Te Ara

Regenerative practice

A connection to nature can be as simple as appreciating the tree by the roadside. But to fully appreciate our connection to nature, we can look at what nature gives us and what we give back in return. For most urban environments, this relationship can look a little like a one-way street.

That’s where regenerative practices in our urban environments come in. ‘Regenerative’ means to improve rather than merely sustain, so regenerative practices are those that give more than they take.

We thought we would connect you with some of the ways in which our urban environments can live more harmoniously with nature, using our friends at For The Love of Bees and our very own Flagship Education Centre (a contender for the Living Building Challenge) as examples.

Key regenerative practices to implement in our cities


Nature provides us with various ways of powering our buildings and infrastructure. As we know, some of these ways are more damaging than others. That’s why The Flagship uses solar power — we aim to generate 105 percent of our energy needs. That way, we’re not only powering ourselves, but also contributing environmentally friendly power back to the grid.


Nature provides us with fresh water and too often we repay it with polluted water. At The Flagship, we collect and filter rainwater for drinking. And rather than giving back dirty water, we treat it on site in the same way nature treats water, through a wetland! Our above-ground wetland sends water back into the municipal system with as little contamination as possible. 

We also have fantastic composting toilets to treat our black water on site.

LYC--Flagship-6-3-17--High-res49 copy


New buildings can put a lot of strain on nature in the demand for new resources and through the creation of construction waste. One regenerative practice is ‘recycling’ land and buildings.

Eighty-five percent of the materials used in The Flagship are recycled. Used shipping containers make up the main structure and we reverse-engineered the design around specific beams, giving old steel a new life.

While it opened in 2017, most of The Flagship’s core structure is more than 60 years old! It also occupies a space that was once 18 car parks.


Connecting people

Part of being regenerative is to foster harmony in our urban spaces and inspire people to look after our natural world. 

At The Flagship, an abundance of plants and natural materials make it a beautiful place to occupy. We are also located on reclaimed land that was once ocean, so through our educational signage, we aim to reconnect people to the area’s origins. 

Through their many projects, workshops, community gardens, and collaborations with local businesses and groups, For the Love of Bees do an amazing job at connecting people with nature itself and solutions to some of the problems it’s facing.

Food waste

Composting your food waste is a fantastic regenerative practice. What could have been releasing harmful methane in landfill is turned into an invaluable resource for growing food.

As an awesome example of making a regenerative practice more accessible, For the Love of Bees set up a ‘community composting hub’ for use by the Wynyard Quarter restaurants, one of many they have set up. This type of community engagement and outreach is what can make regenerative practices widespread.

Growing food

Making use of our urban spaces to grow food is a great way to reduce the impact of the supply chain on nature. Store-bought food involves packaging and multiple means of transportation, so growing locally can skip all that.

For the Love of Bees have a goal to have an urban farm every 1km. They have several already, which follow regenerative agriculture techniques — see the video below for an explanation of what regenerative agriculture involves.

How can I get involved?

  • If you’re building or renovating, consider what practices you can use to make your new build as nature friendly as possible. Visit us down at The Flagship for inspiration if you’re nearby! Visit us down at The Flagship for inspiration if you’re nearby! Check out the companies that helped us out in our build at the bottom of this page.
  • Most of the practices listed above are best done as a community, so get together with your local community group or community garden. 
  • Spread awareness of and support groups and businesses that aim for regenerative goals. 
  • Plant a garden! Even if you only grow a fraction of your own food to start with. Community gardens will often have workshops to help you get started.

Learn more

The film 2040 looks towards a positive future with regenerative solutions that improve the wellbeing of the planet, all people and all living systems. Watch the trailer below.

The Living Building Challenge asks the question, what if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place? The challenge sets building standards in seven categories: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty.

This Guardian article looks at  regenerative urban development as a prerequisite for the future of cities. “The solution lies in thinking beyond the vague and rather unambitious notion of sustainability and, instead, actively working towards regenerating soils, forests and watercourses. The aim is to improve rather than merely sustain their currently degraded condition.”

To learn about regenerative practice in a rural environment, take a look at New Zealand Geographic’s article on regenerative agriculture. It looks at different ways farmers are adopting regenerative practices here in Aotearoa.

What's the problem?

We might have grown tired of hearing about them, but five million packaged drinks are still consumed by New Zealanders every day. On average, that’s one per person per day! New Zealand’s recycling system isn’t great, meaning that some of those bottles end up in landfills, or escape to our waterways and oceans. We all know what happens then. The plastic breaks down into microplastics, which are then eaten by marine animals.

The facts

  • 181 million plastic containers lack visual information on whether they are recyclable or not.
  • 258 million containers are made from coloured plastic, making it impossible to recycle them into a like-for-like item. Instead, they will be downcycled into bins or pallets, which may not be recycled again.
  • 46 million containers are covered in plastic sleeves, which prevents them from being recycled in the right way.

Small changes for big impact

Change your habits

Single-use plastic bottles are out, but carrying a refillable water bottle is in! Use the Refill NZ app to find a nearby water refill station.

If you need to get yourself a good-quality water bottle, check out our range here.

Keen for something other than water? Try looking for glass bottles or a can first! If a plastic bottle is your only option, make sure you know your recycling labels and only buy bottles that can be recycled! Remember, recycling should always be your last resort!

Get involved!

Could your street or beach use some love? Request a Sustainable Coastlines DIY kit and organise your own beach or street clean up!

Too busy to do a clean-up yourself but still want to help out? Leave a donation!

Want to get more involved with the work we do at Sustainable Coastlines? Become a member!

Connection to Nature Study


This study aims to look at how environmental education programs, such as our Love Your Water program, can foster a connection to nature within their programme.

This research is being run in conjunction with Sara Stuart, a Masters student in Environmental Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. As part of her degree she is undertaking a research project leading to a thesis examining how New Zealand children perceive connection to nature and how this correlates with pro-environmental behaviour.

What is involved?

Children participants aged 8-12 who are involved in our ‘Love Your Water’ freshwater education program are invited to take part in this research. Surveys, designed to take approximately 10 minutes to complete, and randomly conducted interviews of approximately 5 minutes will form the basis of this research project.

As part of a class exercise, participants will be asked if they would like to participate in a survey. Teachers will administer the surveys in the classroom and collect them surveys upon completion. Examples of the survey questions are:

  1. Being outdoors makes me happy (Strongly Agree – Strongly Disagree)
  2. Even when the weather is bad I like to play outside (Strongly Agree – Strongly Disagree)

Interviews will be conducted during the tree planting event and 1-2 students in the class will be asked to participate. Students will first be asked if they would like to participate and if they agree then they will be asked to check “I agree to participate in this interview” on their own Consent Form. The interview will be voice recorded. Examples of the interview questions are:

  1. Do you want to show your family and friends the trees that you’re planting?
  2. How do you feel about planting trees?

For more information on this study please download the ‘Parent’s Information Sheet’ through the link on the right.

Docs and Downloads

The documentation below is supplied to schools alongside this study. Please download and read for a full understanding of the research being undertaken.

For parents

Survey + Field Trip Consent Form: For parents to find out more about Sustainable Coastlines’ ‘Love Your Water’ surveys and tree planting activities and consent to their children participating. Download here

Masters Study Consent Form: Requests consent from the participant’s parent or legal guardian for their child to participate in the Victoria University of Wellington research about Connection to Nature; conducted by Sara Stuart. Download here

Masters Study Information Sheet: Information for the participant’s parent(s) about the study, what is involved, what happens with the information that participants provide and contact details for questions or comments. Download here

For participants (school students)

Participant’s Consent Form: Provided to the 2-3 children who will be asked to participate in a short interview on the day of the tree planting event. Download here

Participant’s Information Sheet: Same as the Masters Study Information Sheet, but in child-appropriate language. Download here

Surveys: The written ‘Baseline’ survey that participants complete prior to our visit to their school classroom. Download here

Interview Questions: A summary of the questions that will be asked of the participants (2-3 total) during the tree planting activity. Download here

For schools

School Principal Consent Form: Requests permission from the school principal for their school to participate in the study. Download here

School Teacher(s) Consent Form: Requests permissions from the school teacher(s) to allow Sara Stuart to participate in their class events as a researcher. Download here

Presentation example: Click here to see the Love Your Water presentation delivered to participants as part of this study.

Ethical Considerations

This research project has received approval from the Victoria University Human Ethics Committee. For more detail on this please refer to the Victoria University Ethics Policy by clicking here.

A summary of the primary ethical considerations for this study are listed below: 

  • The information that participants provide will be treated confidentially and no names will be recorded. Reference will be made to the location of the research, i.e., the name of the school, and the name and location of the stream or river in which the tree planting took place.
  • Participants will not be individually identified in the research project or in any other presentation or publication. Participants’ names will not be recorded on the survey or during the interview; therefore it will not be possible to review the individual responses to the questions upon completion. However, upon request a summary of the class findings can be provided following the conclusions of the research project.
  • All material collected will be kept confidential. No other person besides the researcher Sara Stuart, her supervisor (Wokje Abrahamse) and Sustainable Coastlines’ program managers will see the primary material collected.
  • All survey and interview material will be kept safe, locked in a filing drawer and all interview material will be destroyed within one year following the submission of the thesis.

If you have any ethical concerns about the research please contact Associate Professor Susan Corbett ([email protected]), ph: 04 463 5676, Convener of the Victoria University Human Ethics Committee.