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  Environment » Natural Resources » Water » Wetlands » What wetlands have we got?

What wetlands have we got?

Kopouatai Peat Dome and Piako RiverOver the last 160 years, the area of wetlands in the Waikato region has declined by around 75 per cent. Many of our remaining wetlands are being invaded by introduced pests. Despite the losses, our region is still a wetland stronghold and home to three internationally important wetland sites.

Wetland facts

Between 85 and 90 per cent of New Zealand’s wetlands have been lost. In the 1840s an estimated 110,000 ha of wetland covered the lower Waikato area and Hauraki Plains. Since European settlement, many Waikato wetlands have been drained and converted to pasture.

Current estimates of the area of remaining freshwater wetlands in the Waikato region are around 27,000 ha (25 per cent of what we had). This figure includes Whangamarino wetland (7,100 ha) and Kopuatai Peat Dome (9,200 ha). Check out the area of wetlands in 1840 compared with today on our wetlands in the Waikato region map.

Over 80 per cent of our remaining wetlands are in lowland areas in the Waikato, Matamata–Piako and Hauraki districts. Check out our map showing the percentage of the region’s wetlands in each district.

Check out our indicators that show the extent of wetlands in the Waikato region, and how many are legally protected.

Areas of international significance

The Waikato region is a New Zealand stronghold for wetlands. We have the two largest freshwater wetlands in the North Island, the country’s biggest river delta, and around 11 per cent of the nation’s remaining wetlands1.

Some of our wetlands are listed on the International Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites). There are only six Ramsar(external link) sites in New Zealand. Three of them are in the Waikato region:

Our wetlands are also home to many plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. Find out more about our wetland plants and animals.

Changing habitats

Habitat loss and the isolation and fragmentation of wetlands have led to a decline in many wetland plants and animals, with many now threatened with extinction.

People’s activities in and near wetlands can cause changes, such as lowering the water table and increasing the amounts of nutrients in the soil and water. These, in turn, can cause changes in the vegetation (for example, the replacement of native sedges with willow). Willow now dominates the canopy of one third of the wetland area in in the region.

The table below lists the area of different wetland vegetation types remaining in each bioclimatic zone.

Area of each freshwater wetland vegetation type (hectares) in the Waikato region by bioclimatic zone
Vegetation class Coastal
(< 1 km from the coast)
(below 300m)
(300 to 800m)
(above 300m)
Herbaceous vegetation (raupo, sedges, rushes) 170 16,436 2,470 2 19,085
Flaxland 28 141 329 498
Willow and alder 2 7,867 31 - 7,900
Total 290 24,444 2,830 2 27,483

Source: Waikato Regional Council - Extent of freshwater wetlands environmental indicator 


  1. Based on a current national estimate of approximately 250,000 ha (Ausseil A-G, Gerbeaux P, Chadderton WL, Stephens T, Brown D, Leathwick J 2008. Wetland ecosystems of national importance for biodiversity: criteria, methods and candidate list of nationally important inland wetlands. Landcare Research Contract Report LC0708/158)

Updated August 2017

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