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Secret life of Christchurch rivers revealed for World Rivers Day


26 September 2014

Christchurch’s waterways are home to several endangered species but most people are completely unaware that they are there, says EOS Ecology Principal Scientist Shelley McMurtrie.  

EOS Ecology scientists have been studying Canterbury’s waterways for the past 15 years, which has given them a unique insight into the treasures that lie hidden below the surface.

Shelley McMurtrie is an avid wildlife photographer and has been taking photos of our underwater natives for many years, which now form part of a significant library. In celebration of UN World Rivers Day this Sunday, she has shared some of these images in order to highlight the wonderful things that make their homes in our rivers.

“It’s a bit like a treasure hunt every time we pull on our waders – you never know what you might find. And it makes it all the better knowing that the work we do helps to connect others with these amazing creatures, many of which are unique worldwide.”

Christchurch is a true river city, with four major rivers passing through urban areas, and countless smaller streams criss-crossing and flowing into the main ones.

“Rivers are a central part of our communities,” says McMurtrie.

“Nowhere is that more apparent than in Christchurch following the earthquakes, where our citizen’s desire for a green city is centred around the river that runs through the heart of it – the Ōtakaro/Avon. It’s the focus for a revitalisation project that is at the core of our city’s recovery after the earthquakes; a project that EOS Ecology has been proud to have a role in, leading the ecology side of the project. There is also a strong community drive for a city-to-sea riverside park; as a destination for recreation, tourism and ecology.”

All of our waterways are precious and under threat.  The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to Christchurch waterways means that many of us are completely unaware of what our own actions are doing to our urban rivers.

All of our rivers in Christchurch are the end point for our stormwater network, so anything on our roads eventually ends up in our waterways. Dropping rubbish in drains, leaving our dog’s waste on footpaths, washing concrete slurry, paint, and other chemicals into storm water drains, the rain off a new zinc or copper-lined roof, and the smoking car exhausts – all this ends up in our waterways and makes them sick.

“Clean water is essential to life. We cannot impact our local rivers without ultimately impacting our own health and well-being.  To quote Dame Anne Salmond; our rivers are the “canary in the cage” – an early indicator that we might be in trouble,” says McMurtrie.

The health of Christchurch’s rivers is directly related to the health of the people who live beside them – as well as the animals that live beneath the surface. By sharing these images, Shelley hopes to raise awareness of just how special our waterways and their inhabitants are.

World Rivers Day (September 28) is an annual celebration of the world's waterways. It highlights the many values of rivers and strives to increase public awareness and encourages the improved stewardship of rivers around the world.

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Caddisfly; B Gay.
Cased caddisfly Pycnocentria. While tiny in real life (<10mm long) when viewed under the microscope you can see they carefully arrange tiny grains of sand for their case. They are only found in fast flowing gravel habitats and so are finding new homes in the recently restored Avon River near Montreal Street. grey-BR
spacerMayfly; S.McMurtrie.
Mayfly Coloburiscus. With spiny gills on its abdomen, through which it breathes, this tiny filter-feeding mayfly seems to be a creation out of the Weta workshop. While it was once found in the Avon River, the impacts of urbanization means that it is now only found in our less urban rivers such at the Styx and Ōtukaikino. grey-BR
  Native fish montage.  

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