The Southland Region includes numerous estuaries. Most of these estuaries are of exceptional world value from the fjords on the western coast, through to shallow, well-flushed, sand-dominated estuaries on the southern coast. Environment Southland has established a long-term estuary monitoring programme beginning in 2001 to assess the condition of key estuaries in the region. The six Southland estuaries that are currently being monitored on a long-term basis are Koreti/Waihopai (New River), Aparima (Jacobs River), Toetoe (Fortrose), Waikawa, Freshwater (Stewart Island) and Haldane Estuaries. Estuaries provide critical habitat for a wide range of species including macrofauna, wading birds and fish. More than 50% of Southland’s population now lives in coastal areas bordering estuaries. As the population in Southland grows and land use practices change and intensify, the pressures on these natural estuary resources increase. So too does the importance of protecting these resources for all their natural, cultural, economic, and aesthetic values. Environment Southland, through its approach of inclusive, community-based planning and action at a catchment level, plays a primary role in monitoring, protecting and restoring Southland’s estuaries.
Southland's estuaries are monitored using two approaches: broad-scale habitat mapping (i.e., mapping large seaweed, seagrass areas, edge vegetation and muddiness type and extent); and fine-scale monitoring which includes monitoring of muddiness, sediment metal content, sediment nutrients and macrofauna in the seabed at specific sites. The ecosystem health condition of Southland estuaries is assessed based on the data collected from both broad and fine scale monitoring. Therefore, the fine scale monitoring alone (presented in LAWA) might not reflect the overall ecosystem health condition of a given Southland estuary. This is due to the relative small number of fine scale sampling sites not being adequately representative to extrapolate to whole estuarine condition.