Saving our wetlands - before it's too late
Conservation minister Eugenie Sage is calling for urgent action from New Zealanders to preserve the last remaining 10% of our natural wetlands.
February 2nd marked World Wetlands Day, and Sage released the eighth national report under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of National Importance. This report revealed that 90% of our wetlands are gone - they have been reduced from 2.2 million hectares to just 249,776 hectares.
Sage says, “It will take a concerted and serious effort and years to change this trend. Our wetlands are the land’s kidneys capturing sediments and nutrients and slowly releasing water in drought prone areas. They are home to precious wildlife and plants and are wonderful places for people to experience nature.”
New Zealand signed to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty providing framework for the conservation of wetlands and their resources, in 1976, and currently has six Ramsar sites. These support many ecosystems and species, such as mangroves, whitebait and migratory shorebirds. One fifth of our native bird species use wetlands as their primary habitat.
However, despite being a Ramsar site, New Zealand Forest and Bird say that Whangamarino Wetland in Waikato is dying. Pollution from Lake Waikare is flowing in and destroying the native plant and wildlife habitat.
Sage says she would like to see more Ramsar sites- there are 2,299 internationally of which New Zealand has only six- and that “there needs to be more replanting of wetlands and better use of the Resource Management Act to ensure they are considered when intensive developments and agricultural expansions are being considered.”
Further to this, Forest and Bird’s Annabeth Cohen blames the destruction of our wetlands on agriculture and urban development. She is calling for regional councils to make a more concerted effort to protect wetlands- “that means better management of surrounding agriculture, enforcing rules to prevent illegal vegetation clearance and wetland drainage, and working with community, iwi and DoC to restore wetlands that have become degraded.”
Forest and Bird state that those who own lifestyle blocks can help by preserving or even creating their own wetlands. Among the many benefits they provide, wetlands can store carbon and alleviate the effects of climate change.