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  Environment » Natural Resources » Water » Wetlands

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What are wetlands?

Wetlands are permanently or temporarily wet areas that support plants and animals specially adapted to wet conditions.

The types of wetlands and the plants and animals found in them depends on the water - its amount, depth, permanence, temperature, the chemicals found in it, and its source - groundwater, surface water or rainwater.

Why wetlands are important

Wetlands once covered large areas of New Zealand. Now they are some of our rarest and most at-risk ecosystems. Wetlands contain a diverse range of plants and animals and are home to many rare and threatened species.

Wetlands are highly valued by tangata whenua and local communities for their recreational, educational, scientific, aesthetic, spiritual and cultural values.

The conservation and restoration of wetland habitats can make a real difference for wetland species and also benefit us directly.

Wetlands are important storage areas for floodwaters. Think of a wetland as a giant sponge. Wetland plants slow the flow of water off the land. They sit in depressions than can soak up excess floodwater, and then slowly release it to maintain summer water flows.

Wetlands protect water quality downstream. Their plants trap sediment and heavy metals suspended in water, while bacteria living in wetland soils and on the steams of the plants absorb and break down nitrogen from farm run-off and leaching.

Healthy peat wetlands are important sinks for excess carbon, implicated in global climate change. Find out more about how the drainage of peat releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).

What’s happening with wetlands

Wetlands are often in areas that are very desirable for farming, urban development or other land uses. Many wetlands have been drained and turned into pasture. Draining peat bogs makes them shrink and stops peat formation.

About 90 per cent of New Zealand’s freshwater wetlands have been destroyed in the last 150 years. Wetland loss in the region has slowed in recent years, although weeds, pests and pollution continue to be a threat. Find out about the change in area of major wetlands in the Waikato region.

The health of a wetland is closely related to the land management practices in its catchment and the quality of water entering it.

Wetlands are also vulnerable to pest damage and stock grazing. Many wetlands have become infested with exotic plants (especially willow). Fire has the potential to destroy smaller wetlands.

Looking after our wetlands

There are many ways to protect and enhance our Waikato wetlands.

Waikato Regional Council helps protect wetlands through the Environmental Initiatives Fund and through wetland drainage rules.

Many landowners have restored wetlands on their property, or registered Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenants or Ngā Whenua Rāhui kawenata over their wetlands to protect them in perpetuity.

The National Wetland Trust was established in 1999 to increase the appreciation of wetlands and their values by all New Zealanders. The Trust has been restoring a regionally significant peat lake and swamp forest complex as part of their plans to build a state-of-the-art wetland interpretation centre near Lake Rotopiko, between Hamilton and Te Awamutu.

World Wetlands Day 

World Wetlands Day is held each year on 2 February, marking the adoption of the Ramsar Convention. 

Find out more on the World Wetlands Day website.

Updated August 2017




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