Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Hawke’s Bay wetlands on the mend

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council scientists say they are encouraged by the resilience shown by the region’s wetlands, which are recovering after Cyclone Gabrielle’s flooding filled them with sediment. 

In collaboration with Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Regional Council scientists collected data from 22 sites on the ecological impact of the cyclone.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Terrestrial Ecology Scientist, Annabel Beattie says for many of the wetlands in impacted areas, plants have remained, despite significant water and silt inundation.

“We’re also excited that we’ve re-encountered threatened species like the wetland bird, the Pūweto/spotless crake and the swamp nettle plant. Their presence shows the resilience of wetland ecosystems to extreme weather events and we’re very grateful to the landowners who have allowed us access to these special places,” she said.

“It’s worth noting that while wetlands are recovering well in general, not all wetlands will recover equally and that the state and health of a wetland will feed into its resilience to extreme weather.”

She said the wetlands are crucial to the local environment, forming boundaries between land and water, and filtering out sediment and nutrients and supporting a greater concentration of wildlife than any other habitat with their indigenous ecosystem of plants and animals.

“Over time, wetlands have been dramatically reduced in Hawke’s Bay with only four percent of historic wetlands remaining.”

“Wetlands are one of the rarest and most threatened ecosystems in our region and it is encouraging to see them recover so well after such a devastating weather event.

“We encourage restoring wetlands because it has multiple important outcomes including providing habitat for a wide range of specialised plants and animals and improving water quality.”

As part of its commitment to supporting the protection of both public and private wetlands, the Regional Council has a ‘Wetland State of the Environment’ monitoring programme that tracks the state of wetlands across the region.

Vegetation is measured, drone imagery maps vegetation types, and bird counts, soil measures, water levels and foliage nutrient testing all combine to form an assessment of the wetland’s condition. This data has contributed to the assessments of wetland recovery after the cyclone.

The Regional Council has a number of work programmes to help landowners and the wider community restore wetlands. Landowners who are interested in protecting wetlands can contact the Regional Council at biodiversity@hbrc.govt.nz.

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