WWF-New Zealand Conservation Innovation winner RiverWatch making a splash

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A game-changer solution to New Zealand’s freshwater emergency, WWF-New Zealand Conservation Innovation Awards winner the RiverWatch Water Sensor is heading towards commercial market production.

As a 2016 Conservation Innovation Awards winner, $25,000 core funding was provided to develop the RiverWatch prototype which remotely monitors and records freshwater quality, where it can be used by hundreds of community groups to collect much-needed data from rivers, lakes and streams. This simple floating device is equipped with unique probes which monitor data, including pH level, temperature, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen.

Open from 25 September to 15 October, the Conservation Innovation Awards will seek out and reward innovative game-changers for conservation. To find out how to submit an idea visit www.wwf.org.nz/innovation. A prize package of $25,000 will be awarded to each of the three winners. The 2017 Awards are supported by The Tindall Foundation, Department of Conservation, Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

“The Conservation Innovation Awards help bring amazing ideas to life – such as the RiverWatch Water Sensor which provides a solution to New Zealand’s worsening river and freshwater quality, and could have a major impact on the restoration of our freshwater for generations to come,” said Livia Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand’s Chief Executive Officer.

“From multiple scientific reports, we know that our freshwater is being polluted and our rivers and lakes are in trouble,” Ms Esterhazy said. “This is a national crisis and requires a national level response, including accurate and timely water monitoring. Rivers are the lifeblood of our country and communities deserve and need to know the condition of their waterways. Clean, safe waterways are essential for the health of people, wildlife and economy.”

The RiverWatch Water Sensor has been developed by Water Action Initiative New Zealand (WAI NZ) in collaboration with students from Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. Behind the initiative is South Wairarapa farmer Grant Muir and his son James Muir.

“Water quality is really important to many New Zealanders,” Grant Muir said. “Recent surveys show that 93% of Kiwis believe there is a freshwater crisis in New Zealand and something must be done about it.

“This Water Sensor will give community members the opportunity to take action and monitor the water quality in their local rivers, giving real time data on the health of the waterways.”

Mr Muir said the Water Sensor logged data 24/7, and was easy to operate, portable and inexpensive. Any incident reports on waterways can be automated by the website and emailed to the appropriate authorities for action.

RiverWatch has already gained support from water scientists, regional and local councils, citizen scientists, community groups, iwi organisations, farmers and fishermen – within New Zealand and internationally.

“We already have orders waiting and there is interest from overseas groups involved in water monitoring,” Mr Muir said. “There is significant interest in modifying the sensor to work in salt water, especially from inshore fisheries that are in crisis due to increased sedimentation. We are working with the Institute of Environmental Research Ltd and other data collection agencies to develop a third version which tests for water born E. coli pathogens and water soluble nitrates.”

Mr Muir said the Water Sensor was designed for New Zealand conditions. “It is solar-powered and able to be remotely monitored, and is suited for temporary or permanent site applications,” he said. “Income from the sale of RiverWatch products will go directly back to conservation innovation, research and development for future generations of New Zealanders.”

WAI NZ is now seeking funding to cover costs to get version three of the sensor to commercial market production through the crowd funding platform PledgeMe and other sources.

“Winning the Conservation Innovation Award helped us finalise the prototype, raise the RiverWatch profile, engage people in Aotearoa’s water quality issue and open doors to further funding,” Mr Muir said. “Without WWF and these Awards, we would not be in this exciting space. I encourage people who have an idea that will make a difference across anything environmental to put their ideas forward and enter the Conservation Innovation Awards.”

For information about the Awards, past winners and how to enter, visit www.wwf.org.nz/innovation

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Louisa is the Communications Manager for WWF-New Zealand (World Wide Fund for Nature). She has extensive experience in the areas of media, communications and public relations. Her pen, camera and sense of humour have led her to wonderful work locations throughout Australia, Canada, USA, Solomon Islands, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and Peru. She was raised on a sheep and cattle farm in Outback Australia. Her specialty sectors are the environment (forest/marine/species conservation and climate change), crisis communications (biosecurity, floods and cyclones), and agriculture (livestock and broad-acre farming). She is an Open Water-accredited diver and has explored underwater ecosystems in the Solomon Islands and Cambodia.

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