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Ōtepoti – The world’s ancestors should be ashamed and embarrassed how much of the planet has been stripped of precious wetlands.

February 2 is world wetlands day and New Zealand has lost 90 per cent of its wetlands since human habitation, which is one of the highest rates of loss in the world.  

Aotearoa swamps or wetlands have been drained or filled over the last 150 years. Some of New Zealand’s most threatened natural ecosystems now include lowland wetlands. More than half of the remaining freshwater wetlands are on private land.

New Zealand has seven wetland sites listed as internationally significant and it submits international reporting updates on their condition every seven years. They are: Wairarapa Moana; Farewell Spit (Golden Bay), Firth of Thames (Hauraki Gulf), Koputai Peat Dome (Hauraki Plains), Manawatū Estuary (Foxton, Horowhenua), Awarua-Waituna Lagoon (Southland), Wairarapa Moana (Wairarapa) and Whangamarino Wetland (Northern Waikato).

Wetlands are important because they have many native plants and animals, some endangered. They keep water flowing and reduce the impact of floods. Their plants improve water quality.

Protecting and restoring wetlands is critical for the future of New Zealand’s environment. They 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.

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.

Preventing the destruction of wetlands can help avoid greenhouse gas emissions as well as provide a range of other environmental, biodiversity, and community benefits.

A total of 192 freshwater Aotearoa restoration projects have been approved to receive jobs for nature funding. Many of these projects involve wetland restoration as a core objective.