Integrated Catchment Management, Motueka River

Large project combining inter- and transdisciplinary approaches.

Research goal: How can we use improved understanding of catchment physical and social processes to guide sustainable management in the face of strong development pressure?

The 2170 km2 Motueka River catchment at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand has a broad range of environmental issues of importance to end-users locally and nationally. It contributes 62% of the freshwater entering Tasman Bay — a productive, economically and culturally important bay.

Research design

The Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) for the Motueka River research programme ran between 2000 and 2011. It was designed to answer one over-riding question ‘How can we use improved understanding of catchment physical and social processes to guide sustainable management in the face of strong development pressure?’ The research design combined existing knowledge, and resource management issues as perceived by the local resource management agency (TDC) and stakeholders, with expert science advice based on an integrative socio-ecological research perspective.

At this stage we used:

To be effective the ICM program needed to ensure that the issues addressed were not solely dictated by a single entity or lead agency. Scoping of issues is essential to potentially expand or reframe the original agency perspective The Motueka ICM scoping phase involved a sector workshop, an expert review, public meetings to discuss potential research issues, and a stakeholder survey. It produced these research themes, all with varied scales of integration:

  1. Allocation of scarce water resources among competing land and instream uses
  2. Managing land uses in harmony with freshwater resources
  3. Managing land and freshwater resources to protect and manage marine resources
  4. Integrative tools and processes for managing cumulative effects
  5. Building human capital and facilitating community action

The researchers suggest that effective Integrated Catchment Management is as much about social processes as it is about understanding the physical functioning and management of catchment processes. Or in other words, developing community resilience alongside ecosystem resilience.


Within the programme, integration focussed on five different connections:

  1. Geographical (land/water, catchment/ coast, river/aquifer)
  2. Social (council/community, science/policy/ community action, 1. Māori/European worldviews)
  3. Landscape (physical environment/people)
  4. Cross-disciplinary (between scientific disciplines and worldviews)
  5. Well-beings (environmental, social, economic, cultural).

The Motueka ICM programme trialled methods to develop this integration. This involved an explicit recognition that land, water and social systems are interlinked and interdependent. To this end, the programme brought together research on biophysical processes (water, sediment, nutrient and contaminant fluxes and their impacts) with research in the social sciences (social learning, community engagement, Māori values, economics, policy relevance), integrated across land and water (including coastal waters).

The collaborative approach focused on elements of problem-solving such as uncertainty, values and multiple social perspectives that tend to be neglected in traditional accounts of scientific practice. It also allowed different groups in an area to contribute their local and traditional knowledge alongside scientific knowledge, to achieve better informed and more enduring solutions to contentious issues.

Disseminating the research

The success of the ICM approach depended on strong stakeholder engagement. Creative approaches to engagement were trialled in the Travelling River art-science collaboration, and in the Watershed Talk community resilience projects.

Working with Māori

The programme also carried out research with Māori (Harmsworth 2005). Iwi members commented that the empowerment of both Manawhenua iwi and researchers to engage with Māori values through the ICM programme legitimised the importance of the Māori knowledge, the Māori cultural perspective, and its contribution for resource management in New Zealand.

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