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New River Estuary

New River Estuary is a large "tidal lagoon" type estuary.  It is situated next to Invercargill, the largest urban centre in the region. The estuary receives freshwater from a large, predominantly agricultural catchment, which includes the Oreti and Waihopai Rivers and multiple smaller streams. New River Estuary is bordered by a mix of vegetation and land uses including urban, bush and grazed pasture. It has a wide range of habitats including extensive mudflats, seagrass and saltmarsh areas.

Historically, the estuary was a major source of food for resident Māori. The estuary has been significantly affected by urban and rural development over the past 150 years. This includes large areas of reclaimed land about 1650 ha, urban discharges including treated sewage and untreated stormwater, past landfill leaching, and agricultural activities and run-off further up the catchment.


New River Estuary is one of the estuaries included in Environment Southland's long term State of Environment Monitoring Programme. Overall, the widespread presence of persistent entrained seaweed (Agarophyton chilensis) beds, extensive patches of extreme sediment anoxia and progressive seagrass losses indicate that the estuary is in very poor condition. It is currently showing persistent symptoms of eutrophication, the process by which an entire body of water, or parts of it, becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. Despite the presence of these issues, human use and ecological values of large parts of the estuary are high. The estuary is popular for recreational swimming, boating, shellfish gathering and fishing.

It is one in a network of Southland estuaries with exceptional values for birds study. The New River estuary and Awarua Bay are part of the Awarua Waituna Ramsar reserve complex managed by the Department of Conservation (

Monitoring is carried out in the New River Estuary at five sites. Site B, C and D have been monitored since 2001, while site E and F have been monitored since 2012. The sites are sampled once each year (during summer) for mud content, trace metals in sediment, and macrofauna along with other sediment characteristics.

Estuary summary

What makes my estuary unique?

Explore the characteristics of this estuary


Estuary characteristics

  • Total area
    4100 hectares
  • Key rivers
    • Oreti River
    • Waihopai River
    • Mokotua Stream
    • Duck Creek

What's happening upstream?

See results from monitored river quality sites influencing this estuary

River quality

What's happening upstream?

The physical characteristics and health of estuaries are influenced by the rivers and streams flowing into them. For instance, when it rains the mud and contaminants generated on land can be washed into rivers and eventually flow into the estuary. The health of our rivers and streams can therefore be very important for Estuary Health, and understanding the upstream pressures can help with interpreting estuary monitoring data.

Monitoring is undertaken for a range of river health indicators (e.g., water quality and ecology) in many catchments across the region. Where there are monitored river catchments that influence this estuary, these are shown below. You can click through to view monitoring results from these River Quality sites to see current state and how health has changed over time.

What surrounds my estuary?

See land cover information from monitored catchments that surround this estuary

Land cover

What surrounds my estuary?

The physical characteristics and health of estuaries are influenced by local geography and the way we use our land. This is because estuaries are the receiving environments for many of our land use activities. Land cover information can be used as an indicator of land use, therefore knowing the surrounding land cover can help us understand which pressures might be affecting Estuary Health.

Where there is land cover information available for nearby catchments, these are listed below. These figures show the types of vegetation and built or natural features that surround the estuary margins and the rivers that flow into this estuary. You can click through to the Land Cover topic to see these land cover classes broken down into further detail, and view changes over time.

Oreti River
Waihopai River
Mokotua Stream

What do the Broad Land Cover Classes mean?

Land cover information on LAWA is grouped into land cover classes at two levels of detail – broad and medium. For this overview we are showing the six broad-level classes for the catchment.

  • Forest

    Inclusive of; indigenous and exotic forest.

  • Scrub / shrubland

    Inclusive of; indigenous and exotic scrub / shrubland.

  • Grassland / other herbaceous vegetation

    Inclusive of; tussock and exotic grassland and other herbaceous vegetation.

  • Cropland

    Inclusive of; cropping / horticulture.

  • Urban / bare / lightly-vegetated surfaces

    Inclusive of; natural bare/lightly-vegetated and artificial bare surfaces, and urban area

  • Water bodies
Monitored sites 5

Select a monitored site from the list below

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