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2023 Callaghan Medal: A champion of fresh water and sustainability

Dr Mike Joy has been awarded the Callaghan Medal for his research on the decline of freshwater ecosystems, the quality of drinking water, and sustainable management of our freshwater ecosystems and food production, and for communicating the science to inform public opinion on these issues.

Mike has demonstrated his commitment to communicating with policy-makers and the public through countless public talks, media interviews, op-ed articles, and panel discussions.

He uses his research to communicate the evidence for causal factors in the degradation of waterways across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Mike’s communication of the science has led to changes in government policy and improved public awareness of options for sustainable management of freshwater sources and food production.

His research has been cited in government reports and policy documents more than 60 times.

He has led discussions about the causes of declining water quality, and in particular how councils, central government, and businesses can improve the situation.

Mike’s work has helped educate New Zealanders about the crucial role that freshwater ecosystems play in maintaining biodiversity, supporting human health, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Mike is a go-to authority for media comment about freshwater, and has published 34 of his own op-ed articles, including one in the New York Times.

A nomination supporter describes Mike as “undoubtedly the best-known freshwater ecologist in New Zealand”.

“Where he has distinguished himself is his ability to translate insights from his research into publicly accessible information delivered through multiple media to the public, along with key decision-makers. He makes highly effective use of multiple channels, including mainstream media, social media, presentations, podcasts, and public lectures.”

They add that clean drinking water is a fundamental requirement for the health of people and the ecosystems that we depend on.

“Mike displays a courageous and determined approach to advocate for what is a critical environmental resource – clean water. In doing this he is a role model for other scientists who also stand up against well-resourced industries with a vested interest in continuing practices that compromise our environmental quality and public health.”

A second nomination supporter says Mike’s focus on science as knowledge to be owned by all in the community is “not imprisoned by a narrow view of human progress”.

“His communication is informed by a broader moral vision of a just, inclusive, and sustainable world, where humanity treasures and protects each and every species, and seeks to pass on to future generations a resilient, vibrant, and flourishing natural world.”

They say that given our current formidable ecological crises, both globally and locally, the world desperately needs rigorous, brave, and effective scientific researchers and communicators like Mike.

Dr Mike Joy is based at School of Government at Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington. Awards he has won include the 2013 Royal Society Te Apārangi Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement and the Environment section of the New Zealander of the Year awards in 2009. In 2017 he won the inaugural Universities New Zealand Critic and Conscience of Society Award.

Callaghan Medal:
The Callaghan Medal is awarded for an outstanding contribution to the communication of science.

Citation: To Mike Joy for being a vocal advocate for sustainable management of our freshwater ecosystems and playing a key role in shaping public opinion on the issue.