Environmental monitoring


Monitoring ecological condition using submerged aquatic plants, Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand

Monitoring ecological condition using submerged aquatic plants

Environmental monitoring has become more important as human populations increase and there are increased collective and individual human impacts on natural areas/places, systems and processes. Invasive species have become more numerous and their impact has generally become more significant. Human activities can also deleteriously affect the quality of the human built environment through matters such as reduced air and water quality and traffic congestion.

We typically monitor the environment so that we can determine trends in environmental quality, measure the impacts of management and /or policy, or as part of a research programme.

These different types of monitoring can be described as:

Output monitoring-

  • Measuring environmental management activities such as the number of rats killed by traps, or the residual trap catch rate before and after an animal pest control programme

Outcome monitoring

  • Measuring the environment’s response to management activities /policy (such as relative abundance of individuals of native bird species that are sensitive to predation by animal pests)

State of environment monitoring

  • Measuring the extent and condition of specified parameters without particularly focusing on assessing the effectiveness of management or policy

Monitoring as part of a research programme

  • Measuring environmental changes specifically to answer research questions

The area covered by a monitoring programme may be quite small (e.g. a local environmental restoration programme); or extensive (such as a national or international monitoring programme). In the case of the latter it is particularly important to carefully select what parameters are to be measured as well as an appropriate sampling strategy.

It is not enough to just collect data. Data should be appropriately recorded and analysed as well as stored/archived for future assessments/comparisons.

Establishing a bird count station with a flowering kowhai in the background, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

Establishing bird count stations

Project examples

Developing national environmental indicators

Pacific Eco-Logic was strongly involved in the Ministry for Environment’s programme to develop proposed national indicators for terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity. We consulted many individuals and organisations, assisted with workshops and prepared a number of reports.  We were also involved in the Ministry’s programme to develop national indicators for land, fisheries, water and the coast.

Monitoring biodiversity in Wellington

Pacific Eco-Logic developed a biodiversity monitoring programme for the natural areas managed by Wellington City Council. The Council has a relatively extensive network of natural areas and public open space, including four reserves adjoining or very close to the securely fenced predator-free native wildlife sanctuary Zealandia.  We were able to establish the baseline monitoring soon after Zealandia was securely fenced and the native wildlife predators eradicated.  Soon after the first (baseline) monitoring Wellington Regional Council began an animal pest control programme in the City Council’s natural reserves.

The baseline monitoring included: mapping vegetation communities in the natural area reserves, vegetation plots in forest reserves and vegetation transects in coastal reserves; 5-minute bird counts in forest reserves; and foliar browse assessments (for tree species sensitive to possum browsing). Following the baseline 5 minute bird counts, we managed the twice yearly bird monitoring programme for eight years until the project was incorporated as part of the wider Wellington Regional Council monitoring programme.  During that time tui numbers increased dramatically.  More native bird species were observed in Council managed reserves (especially those adjoining the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary).

National marine environment monitoring programme

Pacific Eco-Logic assisted NIWA with developing a national marine environmental monitoring programme for the Ministry of Primary Industries. Key matters addressed included data management, policy requirements and priority parameters.

Monitoring lake ecological condition

Pacific Eco-Logic assisted NIWA to develop the LakeSPI methodology for measuring lake ecological condition.  It is based on measuring/ assessing parameters associated with aquatic plants and is simpler and cheaper than a full vegetation survey.  Using the data collected, it is possible to make assessments about water clarity, the diversity of native plants present, and the level and impact of invasive (alien) plants.  With appropriate information it is possible to determine the likely natural state and score for a specific lake.  This becomes its baseline or un-impacted reference condition of 100%.  Present day scores can be converted to a percentage of the un-impacted reference condition so allowing aggregation and comparison of data from different lake types in different areas.

Pacific Eco-Logic has measured lake ecological condition for the large lakes of Nelson Lakes National Park several times. We used LakeSPI field methodology and also carried out extensive surveillance diving and snorkelling for new invasive plant species in high risk locations.   Fortunately we found no new invasive plant species.  This means that existing management is working but continued vigilance is needed.  Lake ecological condition was found to have improved since the earliest relevant data collection in the 1970’s.  It was thought that this was due to a reduction in sediment reaching the lakes as invasive browsing animal numbers have been reduced and the upper slopes have become more stable.

Publication examples

Please see the “”Environmental monitoring” heading in the Publications Page.