The Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project aims to restore the Ōkārito Wetland System and has been made possible by funding from the Air New Zealand Environment Trust.

The Glaciers to Wetlands project is a four year programme, managed by DOC to restore the Ōkārito Wetland System (near Franz Josef Glacier) and has been made possible by funding and support from the Air New Zealand Environment Trust (ANZET).

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The project

Air New Zealand Environment Trust logo.
Air New Zealand Environment Trust logo

The Ōkārito Wetland System contains a huge diversity of freshwater ecosystems: coastal lagoons, kahikatea swamp forests, braided rivers and Pakihi swamps. This diversity of habitat supports a wide range of plant and animal life, including many species that are threatened, or known nowhere else in New Zealand.

The white heron/kōtuku and royal spoonbill both breed in the area, and the endangered Australasian bittern/matuku shelters here as well. Twelve species of native fish can be found within the watercourses. The rowi, New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, depends on the wetland ecosystems for shelter and the survival of the fewer than 400 birds remaining in the world.

West Coast wetlands support many cultural values of importance to Māori, particularly harvestable species such as eels and inanga (whitebait), and the provision of habitat for many other taonga species. Recreational values are also of great importance to community and visitors. The freshwater and estuarine habitats of the region support fishing, boating, hunting, kayaking, camping and walking in a spectacular setting beneath the Southern Alps Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers attract large numbers of national and international visitors annually.

Glaciers to Wetlands logo.
Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project logo

Since human arrival in New Zealand, approximately 80-90% of wetlands have been lost. The Ōkārito wetland system has survived decades of logging, weed invasion and introduced mammalian predators. This project is an opportunity to restore a magnificent part of our natural heritage and to enhance recreation opportunities and provide a greater understanding of the importance of not only this wetland system, but all wetlands nationally. By working with the ANZET and the community we can ensure that these nationally significant wetland systems are protected for future generations.


The partnership between the Department of Conservation and Air New Zealand Environment Trust will protect and restore an internationally significant wetland system to its original natural glory and, in the process, re-connect and educate people about the value of healthy functioning ecosystems for future generations.


The Glaciers to Wetlands Project has five main goals:

  1. Protect and restore the kahikatea swamp forest habitat around Lake Wahapo.
  2. Protect and restore the wetlands, podocarp forest and coastal habitats of the Ōkārito  Lagoon system.
  3. Develop focal points where people can engage and learn about this project through participation and recreation activities.
  4. Involve ANZET, the local community, Te Rūnanga o Makāwhio, together with Air New Zealand staff and volunteers to deliver project outcomes, educate people and create a sense of kaitiakitanga or stewardship toward the location and the project.
  5. Grow local, national and international awareness of the Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project and ANZET’s involvement.

Progress to dateDOC ranger Ieuan Davies explains the planting plan. Photo: Wayne Costello.
DOC ranger Ieuan Davies explains the planting plan
Lake Wahapo planting day. Photo: Wayne Costello.
Lake Wahapo planting day

October 2011

  • 650 plants - a mixture of grasses, shrubs and tree seedlings – were planted by 50 volunteers from the local community on October 7. All plants had been grown from seed collected locally and grown in the Community Nursery at Ōkārito.
  • Many thanks to the enthusiastic students of Whataroa School, who planted with enthusiasm right through the midday rain shower. The residents of Ōkārito, Franz Josef and Whataroa added their expertise to the students' enthusiasm and we had a great result!
  • Tree protectors and weedmat will be placed around the plants by volunteers from Conservation Volunteers New Zealand in early November.

February 2011

Seed collection.
Volunteers collecting seeds

  • A community nursery has been built at Ōkārito. This was opened on 18 February 2011 by DOC, the local community and Ruud Kleinpaste (ANZET trustee). The nursery will generate all the native plant species required to replant the areas at Ōkārito and Lake Wahapo.
  • To date, thousands of seeds and seedlings have been collected, and will be grown at the nursery with the help of the community and volunteers.
  • A fence has been erected at Lake Wahapo to protect the remnant kahikatea swamp forest from grazing cattle. It has been specially designed to withstand frequent flooding of the adjacent Waitangitaona River.

Get involved

Want to be involved? Great! We will need help at all stages of the process from collecting and propagating seeds, to pricking out and potting on seedlings, and finally planting young plants in their new homes.

If you have green fingers, or are just interested in plants and would like to help out, please contact the Glacier to Wetlands Restoration Project team at DOC or phone +64 3 752 0796.

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