To celebrate World Wetlands Day DOC’s Jackie van Hal reflects on the status of New Zealand’s protected wetlands…
World Wetlands Day is held on 2 February each year to commemorate the 1971 signing of the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar. This year’s theme is sustainable livelihoods.
What progress has been made in wetland protection?
Wetlands are complex and diverse ecosystems. Prior to human settlement, over two million hectares of New Zealand’s landscape was covered with some form of wetland. Over time, many wetlands have been drained to make way for land development. As a result only 10% of New Zealand’s original wetland area now remains.
We now recognise that wetlands help improve water quality, reduce flooding impacts, provide habitat for flora and fauna, offer recreational and education opportunities, and are important areas culturally.
How well are wetlands protected in conservation reserves and parks in New Zealand?
Progress in wetland protection was reported in a recent journal article prepared by Freshwater Science Advisor Hugh Robertson.
The article showed that of the approximately 250,000 hectares of freshwater wetlands remaining in New Zealand, almost two thirds (63% or 157,000 hectares) are located within protected areas.
Between 1990–2013, an additional 29,000 hectares of wetlands were legally protected within DOC-administered conservation land – an increase from 48% of existing wetlands in 1990 to 60% in 2013.
South Island wetlands contributed the most to this increase, due to the tenure review of high country land, or land purchases such as Hakatere Conservation Park in the Ashburton Basin.
Important additions to wetland reserves have also been made by other conservation initiatives such as QEII National Trust covenants, which have contributed in excess of 5,000 hectares.
The study looked into whether or not there were biases in protecting specific wetland types over others. Positively, there was an increase in legal protection for all wetland types on DOC administered land since 1990 with Pakihi/Gumland wetlands (11,000 hectares) and swamps (7,500 hectares), exhibiting the greatest increases. Rain-fed bogs, fens and marsh wetland types presented lower levels of protection.
But despite the increase in swamps in protected areas, swamp and marsh wetland types remain the most poorly represented in New Zealand compared to their historic extent.
Where should protection efforts be focused now?
Conservation of smaller (less than 100 hectare) lowland wetlands is a priority. These wetlands are often on private land and opportunities for changes in land tenure aren’t always available. Therefore, it is important to work in partnership with private landowners, community groups, Iwi, and trusts to formally protect these special places.
To find out more read the full review article: Wetland reserves in New Zealand: the status of protected areas between 1990 and 2013.
What can I do?
Take the opportunity where you can to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands and wise use, or perhaps visit one of the many accessible wetlands around the country.
Do you have a favourite wetland in New Zealand? Tell us in the comments below.