Discovering the water man
The connection that rowers have to water is undeniable. Former rower, turned rowing father, turned rowing photographer, Steve McArthur of New Zealand has taken it one step further and is researching ways to make rowing waterways cleaner.
McArthur has four children between the ages of 12 and 18 and his life has become intricately entwined in rowing as all four are currently rowers. "My wife just started (rowing) last month," says McArthur admitting that she realised that this was the best way to see the family. "We have our own boat trailer. We're all set up."
Over the last couple of years McArthur has followed the international rowing circuit, going to numerous regattas to take photos. McArthur could not help but notice the alliance with WWF that World Rowing had and it got him thinking about water quality.
"I went to the world junior champs in Rio (in 2015) and I was asked by friends and colleagues about the water quality at the rowing venue. It seemed to me," says McArthur, "that there was a lot of fish life. This was surprising. I started to think it was similar to the Avon River in Christchurch (a popular river for rowing). So I thought the only way to find out was to do some testing."
McArthur started to test the main waterways that rowers use around his home in Christchurch.
Through his business activities - McArthur runs an agricultural consultancy business that helps farmers select sites to grow crops and the fertilisers needed for farming - McArthur is very much aware of the impact of farming on the waterways. "In New Zealand dairy farmers add fertiliser to the land, so do horticultural farmers who use a much smaller amount of land but are often in sensitive zones around lakes and rivers. There are problems with nutrients from farms ending up in waterways, which result in unnecessary water contamination."
McArthur sees that he is able to make a difference through his business. "I'm helping to educate clients that they can use less (fertilisers) and still get the same quality and yield." He has already seen a shift over the last 20 years, and especially in the last three years, towards a more cautious use of fertilisers.
"Now we need to stop any more loss of water quality and then improve the water quality."
“In the past farmers have used fertiliser as a cheap form of insurance to ensure they get a good crop, this often covered up deficiencies in soil management. Through education, technology and farming their soils better, farmers can sustainably produce high yields of good quality crops without wasting nutrients”
"We have to take a long term approach and build up a picture of what is happening with our water quality," says McArthur who had noticed one of the major rowing regatta venues, Lake Ruataniwha, had changed in water quality since the introduction of salmon farms in the lake and dairy farming intensification on the surrounding land. "I've noticed a slime and algae build up since first seeing it in 1987."
McArthur started testing waterways used by rowers as he does not know of any national bodies doing this research. "I'm doing it to highlight to the rowing community that we have a problem," says McArthur. "If there can be some awareness made then as rowers we can do our bit to preserve water quality in New Zealand.”
"We all want to row on nice water and we want to be able to jump in the water on a hot day and not get sick."
McArthur plans to do more research and then present his findings to the rowing community. "I figure if I keep highlighting it, then you keep it in people's minds."
"What World Rowing is doing for clean water is fantastic. It stimulated me to do something. Now we need to stimulate the public."