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New report: state of NZ’s wetlands has declined

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NZ wetlands

The new report shows that although there have been some wins for wetlands in Aotearoa, including millions of dollars in freshwater funding, climate change and wetland loss pose significant challenges. Photo: Brenda Anderson | Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A new report published says the overall state of New Zealand’s wetlands has declined due to multiple pressures including land conversion, pollution, and climate change.

The report on the state of NZ’s wetland conservation was published in the lead-up to the Ramsar Convention Conference of Parties (COP14) meeting in Geneva, which kicked off on 5 November.

Department of Conservation’s (DOC) international policy manager Danica Stent said the report notes that the condition of our Ramsar wetland network remains unchanged.

“Last summer was a stark reminder of our wetlands’ vulnerability when the Awarua Wetland Ramsar site in Southland and Kaimaumau-Motutangi in Northland were both ravaged by fire.”

She said since human habitation of Aotearoa, 90% of our wetlands have been lost with some lowland wetlands now less than one percent of their original size.

“We can’t afford to lose more wetlands. They are a source of mahinga kai for Māori, a site for recreation, and a breeding ground and home for numerous indigenous species.

“We’re also increasingly aware of the crucial role wetlands play in climate change mitigation, through storing carbon and climate change adaptation, by buffering and absorbing severe weather such as flooding and sea surges.”

Stent added that freshwater funding and the extension of the Ramsar network, both noted in the report, are a significant boost to wetland restoration efforts.

“Jobs for Nature funding includes over $400 million to improve freshwater management, with many of the funded projects providing direct or indirect benefits to wetlands. Some of the projects, such as Te Whanganui-A-Orotu (Ahuriri Estuary) restoration project in Hawke’s Bay, and at Lake Moawhitu in the Marlborough region, have wetland restoration as a core objective.

“Robust targets and goals in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater and Te Mana o Te Taiaio New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy have been set to prevent further loss of wetlands, restore them to a healthy, functioning state and promote their role in carbon storage.

“We’ve also seen what strong partnerships can achieve. In 2020, Wairarapa Moana was granted Ramsar Wetland of International Importance status through Wairarapa iwi, community, and local and central government collaboration. Wairarapa Moana is home to critically endangered birds and acknowledged by local Māori as a place of tremendous cultural and spiritual value.”

She said the priorities for implementing the Ramsar Convention are to provide support and clear guidance so freshwater regulations are effectively applied across the country and to support partnerships with iwi and hapū.

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