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The health of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland’s natural environment in 2020

Auckland Council Research and Evaluation Unit, RIMU
Auckland Council Research and Evaluation Unit, RIMU
Publication date:  


Kupu whakataki


The natural environment of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland is diverse. It is home to special local ecosystems and species in harbours, beaches, lakes, coastlines, maunga, rain-forest clad ranges, and the Hauraki Gulf motu/islands.

Our environment provides us with the air we breathe, fresh water we drink, locally produced food, and places to live, work and play. The health of the natural environment affects Aucklanders’ health and wellbeing. Māori are connected to the natural environment through whakapapa and are kaitiaki. The spiritual and cultural connection Māori have to Tāmaki Makaurau is tied to their relationship with the land, maunga, harbours and waters. The health and wellbeing of the environment and people as part of that environment is paramount. Auckland Council has a stewardship role to protect and restore our natural environment, preserving it for current and future generations.

Our amazing natural environment may look okay on the surface, but its health is not always so great. Past decisions and the pressures of providing for a growing population, where we choose to live and how we use our land and water, have had a negative impact on the mauri (life force) of the natural environment across the region. A degraded environment is less resilient to cope with the impacts that climate change will have.

Providing for a growing population continues to add pressure to our degraded environment. This growth has been significant and rapid. Between the 2013 and 2018 Censuses, our population increased by 156,168 people, accounting for over a third of the overall national growth. The current population of 1,717,500 (as at June 2020) is projected to reach a population of 2.3 million by 2050. Current and future choices about where and how Tāmaki Makaurau grows influences how we address environmental degradation and the opportunities to use growth to restore our natural environment.

The Auckland Plan 2050 identifies three challenges facing Auckland now and into the future: environmental degradation, high population growth and sharing prosperity with all Aucklanders. The Auckland Plan 2050 three-year progress report (2020) outlined the mixed progress being made on reducing environmental degradation and the need to continue to address the challenge.

This report reinforces this need by building a regional picture of the health of the natural environment, how we are impacting it and where we are heading. This provides decision-makers with knowledge and evidence to help prioritise how we respond to the challenge of improving the health of the natural environment.

Purpose of this report

This synthesis report brings together results from technical reports, covering the state and changes over time in air, land and water domains, to tell the story of the health of our natural environment. It also highlights key Auckland Council regional responses intended to improve the state of our environment. Detailed analysis of data for indicators can be found in the supporting technical reports.

Why are we doing this?

Managing the region’s natural resources is a core function of Auckland Council, set out in legislation. This includes monitoring and reporting on the state of all or part of the environment under section 35 of the Resource Management Act 1991.

Monitoring can detect change in our natural environment and inform whether these changes are natural variations, related to climate change or an impact of other human activities. As a critical part of the ‘plan-do-monitor-review’ cycle, monitoring helps to identify what we should worry about the most, whether we are making progress (short- and long-term) or if there are new issues emerging as we resolve old issues.

All New Zealand regional councils monitor the natural environment. Data collected by Auckland Council feeds into national environmental reporting (managed by the Ministry for the Environment) to inform government priorities and to understand if Tāmaki Makaurau has similar issues to other regions. For more information on the issues for New Zealand see Environment Aotearoa 2019.

Auckland Council, 24 February 2021

See also

Related technical reports

Other Auckland Council state of the environment reports.


State of the Environment reporting

This 2020 synthesis report is part of Auckland Council’s State of the Environment (SOE) monitoring and reporting programme.

Data and information from SOE monitoring is reported in multiple ways. Raw data is provided on request and is progressively being made available via our online data portal and on the national Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA) website. Technical reports on individual programmes are also regularly published.

State of the environment monitoring and reporting generates knowledge to inform Auckland Council decisions on where to prioritise our response, actions and funding. It also enables us to measure progress and improve our understanding of the natural environment. SOE monitoring directly provides data, analysis and progress measures for:

  • Auckland Plan 2050 outcomes reporting
  • Auckland Unitary Plan
  • Te-Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan
  • Māori values reporting by the Independent Māori Statutory Board
  • State of the Gulf reporting by the Hauraki Gulf Forum
  • State of the Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area reporting
  • Auckland Council’s implementation of national directives, such as the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

In addition to this synthesis report, a series of case studies planned for 2021 will allow for more detailed assessment and evaluation of specific pressures, responses or trends that have been identified in the technical reports. A te ao Māori view of the wellbeing of the natural environment will be developed in 2021.

Key findings

Hau, Air

  • Overall air quality in Tāmaki Makaurau is good and improving.
  • Exceedances of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ) do occur sometimes.
  • Key pollution sources are transport throughout the year and home heating in winter.
  • Pollution levels have increased slightly in the city centre.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are dominated by the transport and energy sectors.
  • Gross and net emissions in 2018 had increased from the 2016 levels due to increased emissions from energy, transport and industrial processes and product use (IPPU) sectors.
  • Emissions have not increased as fast as population and economic growth.

Whenua, Land

  • Indigenous land cover has increased (+ 656ha) across the region since 1996.
  • Productive rural soils are over-fertilised and compacted.
  • Several forest ecosystem types are severely depleted and many of our remaining forests are small and fragmented.
  • Large forest areas support higher plant and ecosystem diversity and have fewer weeds, while smaller forests in rural and urban landscapes have more weeds and fewer native plant species.
  • Tāmaki Makaurau forests are dominated by native plant species. Only five per cent of all plant species regionally are weeds.
  • Most birds counted in forests (70 per cent) and wetlands (55 per cent) were native species.
  • Our island sanctuaries and mainland managed sites are bird strongholds containing the highest ratios of native birds to introduced species.
  • Problematic weeds and pests are only absent where intensive weed and pest control takes place.

Wai, Water

  • There was a trend toward fewer river low flow days in summer and higher groundwater levels over the period 2010-2019.
  • Groundwater quality showed minor improvements.
  • Stream water quality improved at more sites than degraded. However, streams continue to be nutrient enriched, have declining visual clarity and generally high levels of E. coli.
  • Streams with native forest catchments generally have the best ecological health, whilst urban streams have the worst.
  • Health of monitored lakes continues to decline, with elevated nutrients and declining water quality particularly for nitrogen, water clarity and sediment.
  • Coastal water quality is mostly improving but slowly.
  • Ecological impacts from increased sedimentation have been detected in all harbours and estuaries.
  • Levels of contaminants (copper, lead and zinc) in marine sediments are generally low. Hot spots of higher levels occur in muddy estuaries/tidal creeks with older intensively developed catchments.