Anthropocene Landscapes in Aotearoa New Zealand

Effective management of rivers in a world where humans are the dominant driver of geomorphic change.

River management in Aotearoa New Zealand is undergoing scrutiny and flux as authorities deliberate between conventional assertions of an Anthropocene command-and-control ethos and the potential of Te Mana o te Wai. This GMNCE supported thesis will critique how we view rivers in the Anthropocene, contending they merely extend anthropocentric ideas of how rivers should look and behave. Current management practices separate communities from rivers, creating path dependencies that accentuate hazards and mitigate against process-based river restoration. Anthropocentric river management compromises holistic representations of riverscapes as it considers only scientific information and omits socio-cultural context and meaning. Changing approaches to geomorphic practice will be used to envisage alternative management (‘ways of living with rivers’). This approach will embrace principles of Te Mana o te Wai, transformative practices and relations, including focus on the ora, mana and mauri of a river.


The project aligns directly with transdisciplinary Marsden-funded project ‘Let the River Speak’ that scopes prospect to work with the voices of the river, embracing concerns for the rights of rivers themselves. Collaborative research with Upper and Lower Catchment Restoration Groups and Gisborne District Council will juxtapose socio-cultural connections to the Waimatā River at Gisborne (including Māori epistemologies and relations to the river) alongside scientific understandings of the river (including applications of Digital Rivers).


The thesis will explore the conduct of geomorphology through a Critical Physical Geography lens, examining how we ‘do’ geomorphology and use geomorphic understandings to support management applications. The project is framed around three key aims/objectives:

a) Unpicking anthropocentric management of riverscapes in Aotearoa New Zealand

b) Exploring the meanings of digital rivers (virtual representations of the Waimatā River) to develop shared conceptualisations of the river as a platform for catchment management plans.

c) Design and generation of a ‘living database’ to develop and apply multiple knowledges (not just scientific) to support ways of living with the Waimatā


As the research will be conducted directly with community groups and the council, it will investigate differing information forms, including citizen science interventions and approaches to science communication and geo-visualisation, scoping management practices that express closer connections with rivers.

About the researcher

Megan Thomas, Doctoral Candidate, Faculty of Science