Protecting and restoring the world’s precious wetlands

Department of Conservation —  04/04/2018

by Summer Church, International Advisor

Wetlands are of great ecological, cultural and historical value to New Zealand. Our wetlands act like the kidneys of the earth, capturing sediments and nutrients, slowly releasing water in drought prone areas and protecting coastal land. They are also home to unique wildlife and plants.

In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of the negative impacts of human activity on wetlands.

The Ramsar Convention

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty focusing on the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. New Zealand became a party to the Convention in 1976. The Pacific region currently boasts 81 Ramsar Sites, with New Zealand home to six of these.  Ramsar Sites are wetland sites which have been recognised for their international value in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology.

Waituna Lagoon.

Waituna Lagoon, one of six Ramsar sites in New Zealand

Ramsar Regional (Pacific) Meeting

In March Wellington played host to the Regional (Pacific) Meeting of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The aim of the meeting was to give parties the opportunity to collaborate on key issues, exchange views, and reflect on the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in the Pacific region.

I was fortunate enough to attend the meeting where the issues of wetland conservation and restoration were at the heart of discussion. Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage opened the meeting and made it clear that we need to do more to conserve wetlands in New Zealand to halt the trend of wetland decline, she also emphasised the ongoing efforts of DOC and local communities to conserve and restore the value of our precious wetlands.

Ramsar Convention delegates and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

Ramsar Convention delegates and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage

During the meeting, delegates from all over the Pacific exchanged views on draft resolutions on wetlands. It was humbling to hear small island nations speak about their aims for protecting wetlands. I believe regional meetings are extremely valuable for the Pacific region. A small regional meeting provides a genuine opportunity for smaller Pacific nation’s voices to be heard.

The delegates also attended a field trip to Wairarapa Moana Wetlands. Here they gained an insight into what wetland management and conservation can look like in New Zealand. Collaborative work by councils, iwi and community groups was profiled.

Wairarapa Moana Wetlands.

Wairarapa Moana Wetlands

The highlight of the field trip for delegates was visiting and being welcomed onto Kohunui marae by local hapu Ngāti Hinewaka. Delegates described receiving this powhiri as ‘an experience of a lifetime’ and were moved by the hospitality shown on the marae.

Thanks to Ngāti Hinewaka, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Greater Wellington Regional Council and Ducks Unlimited for their involvement in the field trip.

Ramsar Convention delegates on a field trip to Wairarapa Moana Wetlands.

Ramsar Convention delegates on a field trip to Wairarapa Moana Wetlands

What’s next for our wetlands?

New Zealand recently published its latest National Report under the Ramsar Convention, which gives an indication of the current state and trends of our wetlands and our achievements and challenges under the Convention. Key priorities for future wetland management emerging from this report are; ongoing engagement with community, iwi, and the private sector to foster the wise use of wetlands, improving national and regional fresh water management strategies and the designation of new Ramsar sites.

Want to find out more?

DOC’s work under the Ramsar Convention
The Ramsar Convention

Want to take action to conserve our wetlands?

Volunteer for a conservation group
Support the work of the National Wetland Trust

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