Implementation of National Environmental Monitoring Standards in New Zealand: benefits, challenges, and implications

Elizabeth Fox - Opus , 20 December, 2016

There has been a significant change in the number and type of end-users utilising environmental data, shifting from primarily scientists and analysts to a wider demographic.  With an increase in available environmental data on the web has resulted in the need for a clear, easily understood format describing what the data means, and if it is fit for intended purpose. In contrast to Australia, New Zealand’s environmental monitoring industry had disparate standards on how to collect, process, and archive data. Environmental data from different agencies became difficult to collate and analyse, nor gave an indication to the end-user on its accuracy or reliability for analysis. This led to the creation of the National Environmental Monitoring Standards (NEMS) in 2009. With compounding problems for the end-user New Zealand has opted to move away from a national, centralised archive in favour of federating individual collection agencies’ archives; forcing the need for quality control and standardisation across all environmental data collection agencies, enabling simplified product development for end-users.

NEMS provides nationally consistent procedures on how to collect, process, archive and assign Quality Codes to environmental data. Implementation of Quality Codes enables end users to utilise and review data that is comparable across multiple organisations. The Quality Code schema within NEMS gives important information regarding the reliability and accuracy of the collected environmental data, helping to determine what data is fit for specific purposes. At present, regional and unitary councils across New Zealand are implementing NEMS. Challenges have arisen adopting the new ways of collecting, processing, quality assuring and archiving environmental data, which are apparent when changing from individual organisation’s standards to NEMS; making sure the end-user understands how this transition impacts the data for their intended purposes is vital. Overall, the implications of adopting NEMS will bring large benefits to managing, sharing and utilizing environmental data within New Zealand, particularly in servicing the growing number, and increasing variety, of end-users nationally and globally.