The Government has welcomed a call to action for this year’s World Wetlands Day today, which has the theme ‘Wetlands Action for People and Nature’.
“We’ve lost 90% of our wetlands since human habitation, which is one of the highest rates of loss in the world. We must protect what remains,” Environment Minister, David Parker said.
“Strong protections along with our significant investment and efforts to restore and re-establish them, are an important part of the Government’s commitment to improve freshwater health and management. Protecting and restoring wetlands is a key aspect of the Government’s Essential Freshwater reforms.”
He said recent consultation on the wetland regulations included options that recognised specific instances where some activities are necessary, like a quarry. There would continue to be strong protection through the policy of no further loss of wetland area or values. Any losses will need to be offset to ensure no net loss, the Minister said.
To mark World Wetland Day, the Department of Conservation has published reports on five New Zealand Ramsar wetland sites.
“Wetlands provide numerous benefits including protecting and improving water quality, providing a rich habitat for taonga species, a hauanga kai (food gathering), as well as storing floodwater and maintaining surface water flow during dry periods,” said Conservation Minister, Kiri Allan.
Wetlands hold large stores of carbon. When undisturbed, they absorb and retain carbon from the air, sometimes for thousands of years. When wetlands are drained they become a source of greenhouse gas emissions, she said.
“Preventing the destruction of wetlands can help avoid greenhouse gas emissions as well as provide a range of other environmental, biodiversity, and community benefits.”
Minister Parker said the Government was supporting numerous projects to restore wetlands via the Jobs for Nature programme or the Nature Heritage Fund, in collaboration with regional councils, iwi and hapū, communities and land-owners.
“To date, 192 freshwater restoration projects have been approved to receive Jobs for Nature funding. Many of these projects involve wetland restoration as a core objective.”
The Government has also contributed $11.2m towards the purchase of a farm near Lake Horowhenua that will be converted to wetland to help improve water quality in the lake.
Ms Allan said that sectors across the board were doing great work to restore the nation’s precious wetlands.
“These efforts are producing gains, but we need to focus on climate change impacts and improving the management of catchments, as well as increasing wetland restoration activities,” she said.