Health of Lake Taupo under new surveillance


With the help of a helicopter, NIWA scientists, in partnership with Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board and Environment Waikato, have deployed a 2.8 metre environmental monitoring buoy into Lake Taupo – to help care for the health of New Zealand’s largest lake.

The monitoring buoy has a number of sensors on it which records data at different depths about light, temperature, turbidity, conductivity, and chlorophyll levels in the lake.

The data, which are collected and transmitted to a shore station every ten minutes, will help answers questions about the current state of the lake’s water quality. The data will also feed information into models that will be able to predict the effects of land-use and climate change on the lake.

Dr Clive Howard-Williams, General Manager, Freshwater, at NIWA, says by providing real-time data, the monitoring buoy will improve the accuracy of information collected about the quality of the lake’s water.

Until now, water quality monitoring on the lake has only been conducted fortnightly.

Lake Taupo is one of New Zealand’s most iconic landmarks, and a very important taonga to Ngāti Tūwharetoa.

Ngāti Tūwharetoa are kaitiaki of the lake and also hold title over the lake bed. They have given permission for the buoy to be anchored to the lake bed.

Rakeipoho Taiaroa, Secretary of the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board, says this relationship brings with it responsibilities that Ngāti Tūwharetoa take seriously.

“This buoy provides another opportunity to implement kaitaikitangi for Taupō Moana. The information gathered will provide a strong foundation for future steps to protect and enhance Taupō Moana for Ngāti Tūwharetoa.”

Significant central, local, and regional government funding, including an $81.5 million public fund, (contributed to by Taupo District Council, Environment Waikato, and the Government), has been invested to mitigate the effects of nitrogen run-off on the lake’s water quality and sustainability.

The aim is to reduce nitrogen levels by 20% by 2020 through land-based initiatives.

Environment Waikato Taupo Councillor Laurie Burdett said the buoy would provide a rich source of water quality data.

“While our fortnightly monitoring programme gives a good picture of what is going on in the lake, the new buoy will provide a wealth of new information, and also allow scientists to look at changes at shorter time intervals,” she says.

Data collected will also be provided to the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) to assist in international research and science aimed at predicting how lakes will respond to changing environments such as land-uses and climate change.

Underwater cables enable the buoy to move with the changing wind directions and operate in storm conditions. These extend 50 metres out from the buoy. The buoy is also fitted with a Maritime NZ approved amber maker light using the ODAS (Ocean Data Acquisition System) convention of five quick flashes per ten seconds. Navigation warnings will be issued through the office of the Lake Taupo Harbourmaster.

Lake Taupo Deputy Harbourmaster Brent McIntosh urges recreational fishers, boaties, and other lake users to keep away from the buoy for their own safety.

The buoy has been funded by NIWA, with Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board and Environment Waikato assisting with the cost of maintaining the buoy.


Helicopter carries the buoy to the middle of Lake Taupo. The long string of scientific instruments can be seen trailing from the bottom of the buoy. (Max Gibbs, NIWA)


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