Films on researchers highlight why expertise matters

A new documentary film series highlights the work of three leading New Zealand researchers as they dedicate their lives to illuminating and protecting different aspects of one of our most precious resources—water.

Each episode of ‘WaterRapuhia, kimihia: Quest for knowledge’ and an accompanying podcast series demonstrates the passion, ingenuity and resilience of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington academics producing research of vital importance to New Zealand and the world.

The series has been made by Magpie Content Creation with the support of NZ on Air. The films are directed by Magnolia Lowe and the podcasts are produced and presented by Teresa Cowie.

In the series, Dr Mike Joy, a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies in the University’s Wellington School of Business and Government, takes his research team into the field to bring new data to the discussions about our fresh water; Tim Naish, a Professor in Earth Sciences in the University’s Antarctic Research Centre, presents on the world stage new research on sea level rise; and Professor Catherine Iorns from the University’s Faculty of Law explores legal protection of our rivers and waterways.

“At a time when many have lost faith in expertise and feel overwhelmed by fake news, conspiracy theories and armchair experts, ‘Water—Rapuhia, kimihia: Quest for knowledge’ puts the value of scientific research front and centre,” says Ms Lowe.

“As New Zealand emerges from the constraints of COVID-19 and the discussion shifts to how we choose to reset the economy—and our priorities—the documentaries and accompanying podcasts form a vital part of the conversation.”

In Episode 1: Fresh Water, we follow Dr Joy as he tests for nitrates in the tributaries that flow into Lake Wanaka, some of the most pristine fresh water in New Zealand—and then see the readings rise as he tests further downstream. By the time he gets to Ashburton, what will the readings show—and how close are they to levels associated with colo-rectal cancer? Along the way, there’s personal insight into the character of a man who sometimes seems to relish his “Doctor Doom” label, as we travel with him on his crusade to convert scientific knowledge into demonstrable action.

In Episode 2: Sea Level Rise, we learn that Professor Naish didn’t want to go to Antarctica to study as a postgraduate student—he thought it would be a tough place to do research. These days he knows the real challenge lies in understanding how what happens in Antarctica will impact sea level rise worldwide and then convincing the international community of the necessity to act. While his colleague Associate Professor Nick Golledge heads to Antarctica to gather up-to-the-minute data on ice sheet movement, we follow Professor Naish to Whitehall, London, to present his findings to an international audience.

At the beginning of Episode 3: Rights & Responsibilities, Professor Iorns is on her way to Napier to speak with councillors about the legal liability they are likely to face around sea level rise when a storm rolls in bringing high tides. A visit to Haumoana, where a whole street of property titles now stretch under the high tide line, shows the challenges local government will face over years to come. Professor Iorns uses her expertise to encourage legal protection of rivers and waterways—her current challenge is to support local iwi in their fight to overturn consent for seabed mining off the Taranaki coast.

‘Water—Rapuhia, kimihia: Quest for knowledge’ will be available on the Newsroom news and current affairs website: Episode 1 and its accompanying podcast from Friday 8 May; Episode 2 and its accompanying podcast from Friday 15 May; and Episode 3 and its accompanying podcast from Friday 22 May.