By Jane Hughes, Partnerships Ranger in Hamilton
Anchored by the thin blue pole pushed into the ground at my side, and holding tightly to one end of a long measuring tape, I can hear the voices of scientist, Paula Reeves and DOC ranger, Jacqui Bond.
They are somewhere at the other end of the tape, the rest of which has disappeared into a tangled mass of manuka, ferns and other vegetation.
Apart from the odd flash of hi-vis vest through the thick scrubby growth, I can see very little.
It’s not easy work for Paula, Jacqui and all the other people who work in the wetlands (“the swamp”, “the bog”).
They help to understand, maintain and restore the fragile environment, which is so beneficial to the planet and to us as humans.
Wetlands are often referred to as the lungs and kidneys of the Earth for their positive effects on water quality and the ozone layer.
We are fortunate in the Waikato to have the Whangamarino Wetland.
In 1989, due to its high biodiversity values, including its diverse and rare water birds, Whangamarino was recognised as a “Wetland of International Significance”, under the Ramsar Convention, the international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
Arawai Kakariki Wetland Restoration Programme
Since 2007, DOC’s Arawai Kakariki Wetland Restoration Programme has focused on three of New Zealand’s most significant wetland sites including Whangamarino. The aim of this project is to restore, protect and understand these ecosystems.
Monitoring and research at Whangamarino
Within the Whangamarino wetland, 36 vegetation plots are “measured”. Jacqui, one of several DOC Rangers who assist with the project, explains that “this remeasure occurs every 3-4 years and will show us whether the wetland condition and vegetation are changing, either improving or degrading”.
Paula Reeves has been involved in monitoring and researching the vegetation of Whangamarino Wetland for over 20 years. She first started studying Whangamarino while undertaking her Masters Degree at Waikato University. This saw her examining changes in the wetland between 1942 and 1993.
The last plot
We’re now in the last plot, on the last day of this year’s remeasure. Getting here took us three hours. This included an hour’s drive from Hamilton, a drive across farmland, and then a “walk” across the wide open spaces of the wetland, as well as pushing through overgrown and prickly parts.
Walking isn’t easy, because of the many deep holes. Every time I think I have mastered the wet tracks through the wire rush (the main peat bog plant), I find myself once more, eyes suddenly at ground level, up to my waist in water. I then have to struggle to hoist one, or both, legs out of the swamp.
Once the plot is found and marked out, Paula identifies and counts the cryptic plants within each plot and gathers seed. Jacqui collects soil samples and determines how degraded the peat soil is. She squeezes it to see the colour of the water which comes out, and to feel how fibrous it is.
I look down at my sodden boots, my pants and jersey soaked to the chest (just saved my cellphone with photos) and wonder if my manager will mind that my new uniform pants are ripped beyond repair.
I know I will spend the next few days picking minuscule fragments of wire rush out of my skin; but I hope it’s not too long before I get to explore again the secretive world of the Whangamarino Wetland.