World Wetlands Day (Sunday February 2) provides an opportunity to highlight the important role wetlands play in our environment and to spotlight work being done to protect them.
A wetland is an area of land saturated with water permanently or seasonally. Wetlands include swamps and marshes, lakes and rivers, estuaries and tidal flats, wet grasslands and peat bogs.
Wetlands play a number of roles to keep our environment healthy, principally water purification, flood control and shoreline stability. They are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystem, providing a home to a wide range of plant and animal life.
The importance of wetlands was formally recognised in 1971 when an international Wetland Convention was signed in Ramsar, in Iran. This is the only global environmental treaty covering a particular ecosystem.
World Wetlands Day is held every year, on February 2, to mark the signing of the Wetlands Convention in Ramsar.
New Zealand is one of 168 countries to have signed the Ramsar Convention. The signatories have committed to the conservation and “wise use” of wetlands so they can be sustained economically, socially and environmentally. These countries have designated 2168 wetland sites, covering more than 206 million hectares, as internationally significant.
Six sites in New Zealand, covering more than 55,000 hectares, are included in the list of internationally significant wetlands. New Zealand’s Ramsar sites are:
- Firth of Thames - Hauraki
- Kopuatai Peat Dome - Waikato
- Whangamarino wetland - Waikato
- Manawatu River Estuary - Horowhenua
- Farewell Spit - top of the South Island
- Awarua Waituna Lagoon - Southland
Examples of DOC's protection work
The Arawai Kākāriki Wetland Restoration Programme
Co-ordinated by DOC, the Arawai Kākāriki Wetland Restoration Programme, involves work to protect and restore wetlands plus research to gain a better understanding of wetland ecosystems.
The programme, which began in 2007, focuses on three important wetland sites
- Whangamarino wetland in Waikato - a Ramsar site
- Awarua-Waituna in Southland - a Ramsar site
- Ō Tū Wharekai covering the Ashburton Lakes and the upper Rangitata River in mid Canterbury.
DOC is working in partnership with local communities, iwi and other agencies on a broad range of conservation initiatives at these wetlands. This includes:
- wetland mapping to prioritise areas to be restored
- weed control
- fencing - to protect wetlands from farm animals and to reduce sediment and nutrient flow into waterways
- working with regional councils on water quality initiatives
- raising awareness of the importance of wetlands and promoting sustainable land use
- providing recreation facilities so people can enjoy wetlands without harming them
Knowledge gained from the work at the Arawai Kākāriki sites is being applied in managing other wetlands.
DOC and Fonterra partnership
Last year DOC and Fonterra signed a $20 million, 10 year agreement to improve the natural habitats of key waterways around New Zealand. The partnership is focusing initially on five key catchments in significant dairying regions. These are:
- Kaipara Harbour - Northland
- Firth of Thames - Hauraki - a Ramsar site
- Waikato Peat Lakes - Waikato
- Te Waihora-Lake Ellesmere - Canterbury
- Awarua-Waituna - Southland - a Ramsar site
DOC and Fonterra are working together at these sites to make them living examples of how dairy farming and natural New Zealand environments can successfully coexist. The partnership involves DOC working with Fonterra, local communities, iwi and farmers to help clean up waterways and wetlands at the five selected catchment areas. The work will include:
- planting trees alongside streams and rivers to improve water quality
- managing pests and weeds
- making sure that the right habitats are in place around farms to enhance biodiversity and provide homes for native fish and birds.
Wetland Restoration Symposium 12-14 February
DOC, Fonterra, Auckland Council, Unitec, Landcare Research, NIWA and Northland Regional Council are sponsoring the 6th National Wetland Restoration Symposium in Auckland from February 12 to 14.
The symposium brings together scientists who specialise in wetlands with managers and owners of wetlands to share knowledge about restoring these sites. This year it as at Unitec’s Mt Albert Campus in Auckland.
The symposium will cover a range of topics, including:
- the links between wetlands and climate
- coping with weather extremes when restoring wetlands
- a special focus on urban wetlands and the role of constructed wetlands – those created as part of the construction of storm water and waste treatment plants.
Keynote speakers include New Zealander of the Year 2013, Dame Anne Salmond and Dr Dave Campbell from Waikato University.