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United by the common goal of protecting some of Fiordland National Park’s most famous spots, which are also host to several indigenous botanical species, environmental activists launched a campaign 50 years ago that would protect these waters from exploitation and ecological impact.
Two of the original six guardians were able to attend the celebratory event in Te Anau on Sunday — Prof Sir Alan Mark and Dr John Moore, both key to the campaign’s success in both Te Anau and Manapouri.
During the 1950s and ’60s the government announced its plan to build a hydro-electric power station — the contentious part was that included raising lakes Manapouri and Te Anau, which was found to be of detriment to the lakeshore vegetation.
Petitions, marches and protests ensued at a national scale.
Dr Moore was the region’s doctor at the time and said campaigning was hard work.
"It was very difficult. It took an incredible amount of time on top of our proper jobs."
He said it took up about 40 hours a week over two years.
In October 1969, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research contacted Prof Mark and asked for a lakeshore study at Manapouri to describe the vegetation of the shoreline subject to it being drowned.
He said the success of the campaign was that it was a world first.
"The first time on record that a large hydro-electric system supplying a very large amount of electricity is based on the lakes being managed in their natural state."
It was a major topic leading up to the 1972 election. When Labour was voted in, then prime minister Norman Kirk pledged not to raise the levels of the lakes.
This was when the Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Monowai, and Te Anau was created as an independent body to oversee their management.
A candle was lit to recognise those who had since died or could not attend.
About 200 people attended the event at the Fiordland Community Centre.