The Memory of Water

By Fiona Stephenson

If water could speak, what would she say? In an organisational first, SBN attempted to answer that question with the Memory of Water event held in Auckland earlier this month. Here are our five key learnings from the event.

Written by Anne Gummer from our Million Metres team and performed by Georgi Hart, our Project Lead – Water, this was a unique experience which used creative multi-media story-telling. It was an exploration of how water has changed in our region, and how these changes have affected the mauri, the life-giving essence, of the Hauraki Gulf.

The performance began with a single drop of water making its journey across Tamaki Makaurau and entering the Hauraki Gulf. It touched on each period in history, beginning with creation, Maori settlement, Pakeha settlement and the subsequent civilisation of our nation.  Water moved through events like land loss, through developing agricultural practices and process, through new housing developments and dams. It moved through pristine forested land, pasture, roofs, tarmac and drains.

It was an imagining of how water would feel and interact with the landscape, people, animals and marine life during each of these changes in history. It imagined the contrast of being revered and held sacred, to being muddied, buried in pipes and trapped by walls.

It imagined a future trajectory, of water withdrawing herself or expressing rage – fury and flooding across a land that had forgotten to care for her. With current weather conditions becoming more erratic, it really was a show-stopper! The whole show evoked feelings of calm, playfulness, gratitude, discomfort, fear and shame.

Here are five important learnings from the performance.

  1. Personification of the natural world helps us to remember to care for it.

The natural world is alive – if is sick, then so are we! Imagining the environment as a living being helps us to remember it needs to be cared for. Maori are particularly good at embodying nature as living ancestors – it’s a part of the fabric of their cosmology. And the rest of New Zealand is catching up with parliament giving the Whanganui River, Te Urewera Forest and Maunga Taranaki the rights of a legal person. In this way, these natural wonders remain protected with the same rights and privileges of a living being.

  1. Water is precious, it’s our life blood – not just a resource.

It’s so easy to take water for granted; we waste it, we pollute it with our rubbish, we create products that use hundreds of litres of water to make – and at the end of life they are discarded, often back into the water. When there is waste in the water, it affects the entire ecosystem. In some instances, fish and aquatic life are blinded and deformed from ingesting plastics. This was a stark reminder, that water is our lifeblood. We need clean water for all aspects of our health and wellbeing. How long before we begin to experience the same fate as some eels and fish?

  1. Trees – we seriously need to plant more.

Certain trees and plants help to clean and filter water systems. When the right kind of tree is planted in the right place it helps improve the quality of the water, soak up sediment and prevent erosion. Trees reduce the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. They provide important habitats for a range of native species, as well as overall enhancement of the natural environment. If we want to improve water quality, tree planting is essential.

  1. Everything is connected.

This is by far the most important learning. The way we live our lives and everything we do impacts the environment and it impacts others. Stop and think about that for a minute. This comes down to our fundamental beliefs. How we choose to live our lives, has a very real impact. What we do on land affects what ends up in the ocean. So how we shop, the way we travel, how we choose to maintain our homes and cars, what we wear and how it was produced. It all matters, it all has an impact on the world around us.

  1. People have power.

There is real power in people power. We have the power to demand more from our leaders, from industry, from businesses. We can use our voices to express our need for clean water. We can vote with our dollars and how we choose to spend our money. We get to choose to support those who share our values and concerns. Collectively, we can influence others to care!

There is much to do to restore the health (mauri) of the Hauraki Gulf. GulfX is our project to engage the business community to help with this mission.  There are various ways to get involved in GulfX. We have action ideas (here) and if you have other ideas or questions please email us at gulfx@sustainable.org.nz.

We are really grateful to Ursula Griffen (mood setting introduction), Bodhi at Tritone Audio (sound system), Lotech Media (lights), Hallertau (crisp keg of Pilsner), Yealands (scrumptious wine) and Karma Cola (drinks and juices) for their contributions.  And also thanks to our suppliers – WISE Collective (for the tasty food), and Sustainable Coastlines (for the perfect venue). And last, but definitely not least, to Foundation North and its GIFT fund for supporting our work.

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