It is the time of the year to celebrate local wetlands with World Wetlands Day, the 2nd of February. An intergovernmental convention on conservation and wise use of wetlands was signed by at Ramsar, Iran in 1971. This year it is the 40th anniversary of the signing, and is extending to a year long celebration of wetlands. Taupo-nui-a-tia will be celebrating our local wetlands found around Lake Taupo and the Tongariro River delta, and an extensive peat bog found on the Rangitaiki frost flats.
In New Zealand, like most places in the world, we have viewed wetlands as difficult places to travel through and to farm, and have considered them to be unproductive wastelands. In the last 150 years 90% of New Zealand’s freshwater wetlands have been drained, developed and modified to make the land more productive. In recent times, wetlands are understood and valued for the complex ecosystems that they are which support a lot of biodiversity, rich in flora and fauna. Our local wetlands are home to some threatened plants. The bladderwort, Utricularia australis, a submerged aquatic plant, and three species of vulnerable orchids grow in two known wetland sites. Local wetlands are the home to a number of threatened bird species including the Australasian Bittern. Many people are now working hard to restore wetland areas.
At 1500ha in size South Taupo Wetlands / Te Matapuna is one of the largest wetland areas in the North Island, and includes the Waimarino Recreation Reserve at Motuoapa. While the primary value of wetlands is in maintaining water quality and supporting unique wildlife, there is also recreational value in kayaking and game bird hunting. The introduced gray and crack willow are fast growing and began to dominate Te Matapuna wetland. Willows turn wetland into dry land through large root masses and by trapping sediment. Project Tongariro and the Department of Conservation have been undertaking willow control since 2005.
With recent flooding in the area willow removal and native plant restoration becomes more poignant. Two projects in time will help with the flooding across SH1 between Taupo and Turangi. One project is on the banks of the Waimarino River and can be viewed beside the SH1 bridge, and showcases wetland restoration. The other project has been carried out at the Waiotaka Scenic Reserve in association with Ngati Rongomai. Biodiversity ranger Jo Nash explains, “Wetlands are extremely important ecosystems as they act as natures’ sponges. Not only do they soak up rain in floods, but they retain water in droughts, and filter water improving its quality.”