On this page: what are wetlands? ; why wetlands are important ; what’s happening with wetlands; looking after our wetlands.
What are wetlands?
Wetlands are permanently or temporarily wet areas that support plants and animals specially adapted to wet conditions.
The types of plants and animals found in wetlands depends on the water - its amount, depth, permanence, temperature, the chemicals found in it, and its source - groundwater, surface water or rainwater.
Fresh water wetlands in the Waikato include:
Why wetlands are important
Wetlands once covered large areas of New Zealand. Now they are some of our rarest and most at-risk ecosystems. Wetlands contain a diverse range of plants and animals and are home to many rare and threatened species.
Wetlands are highly valued by tangata whenua and local communities for their recreational, educational, scientific, aesthetic, spiritual and cultural values.
The conservation and restoration of wetland habitats can make a real difference for wetland species and also benefit us directly.
Wetlands are important storage areas for floodwaters. Think of a wetland as a giant sponge. Wetland plants slow the flow of water off the land, soaking up excess floodwater, and then slowly releasing it to maintain summer water flows.
Wetland plants trap sediment suspended in water, improving water quality. In riparian areas, their roots hold riverbank soil together, reducing erosion. Bacteria living in wetland soils absorb and break down nitrogen from farm run-off and leaching, improving water quality.
Healthy peat wetlands are important sinks for excess carbon, implicated in potential global warming. Find out more about how the drainage of peat releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).
What’s happening with wetlands
Wetlands are often in areas that are very desirable for farming. Many wetlands have been drained and turned into pasture. Draining of peat bogs makes them shrink and stops peat formation.
About 90 percent of New Zealand’s freshwater wetlands have been destroyed in the last 150 years. Find out about the change in area of major wetlands in the Waikato region.
The health of a wetland is closely related to the land management practices in its catchment and the quality of water entering it.
Wetlands are also vulnerable to pest damage and stock grazing. Many wetlands have become infested with exotic plants (especially willow). Fire has the potential to destroy smaller wetlands.
Find out more about threats to wetlands.
Looking after our wetlands
Waikato Regional Council helps protect wetlands through the Environmental Initiatives Fund.
Many landowners have registered Queen Elizabeth II National Trust Covenants over their wetlands to protect them in perpetuity. Most areas are smaller than five hectares. The largest area is a 46 ha covenant of manuka wetland surrounding Lake Maratoto, near Hamilton airport.
There are many ways to protect and enhance our Waikato wetlands. Find out how to restore a wetland, or order a free copy of our wetlands factsheets.
For policy information on wetlands check out our Waikato Regional Plan and our Regional Policy Statement.
The National Wetland Trust was established in 1999 to increase the appreciation of wetlands and their values by all New Zealanders. The Trust plans to build a state-of-the-art wetland interpretation centre near Lake Kopuera, in the northern Waikato region.
World Wetlands Day is held every year on February 2 to celebrate and learn about the value of wetlands. Events in the Waikato have included the launch of our web site factsheet series on wetlands, organising competitions and leading field trips to local wetlands.
Find out about coastal wetlands and estuaries in Our Coasts.
Find out about lakes, including the peat lakes, in Learn about our lakes.
Find out about rivers in How healthy are our rivers? and River levels and rainfall.