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Wetland restoration progress ‘is exceptional’

A five-year project designed to improve fish access to the Te Pouaruhe wetland from Lake Ōnoke has surpassed expectations.

Te Pouaruhe was recently returned to iwi Ngāti Kahungunu in December’s settlement agreement.

Prior drainage to the wetland and installation of a stop bank separating it from the eastern edge of the lake had caused fish access to be severely limited.

The Te Pouaruhe Restoration Project diverted streams back into the wetland and removed culverts in the stop-bank to restore the hydrology of the site.

Native flora suited to brackish wetlands was also planted to re-establish natural plant communities.

Initial surveys documenting numbers of wetland creatures such as whitebait species īnanga and common bullies were undertaken in 2019.

DOC senior community ranger Ronnie Priest said respective surveys taken this year at the same sites showed vast improvements in numbers.

“We had a call from one of the contractors in a bit of a panic because they were struggling to keep up with the number of fish they were catching,” Priest said.

“They had to change the method of sampling they were using to cope with the extra numbers!”

In one location, common bullies sampled increased from 113 in 2019 to 1,343 this year.

Īnanga counts also grew from 339 to 1563 at the same site during that period.

Tuna [shortfin eels], yellow-eyed mullet, common smelt, freshwater shrimp and estuarine crabs were also present at some sites.

Priest said the Te Pouaruhe project forms just part of the restoration happening all
across Wairarapa Moana.

“Human intervention drained the wetland in the first place so now it’s about helping nature to help itself,” said Priest.

“It shows that if you create the right conditions then nature can begin to re-establish itself.”

Restoration efforts have also included setting up predator control, planting thousands of native vegetation, weed control and community engagement.

Environment manager at Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Rawiri Smith was pleased with the survey results, but also believed there was further opportunity for improvement.

“We think the progress made is exceptional,” Smith said.

“In a balanced environment, there’s more working together and more synchronicity, then with exotics interrupting that balance.”

Smith said when considering results, the rest of the environment, like microbes and fungi had to be factored in.

“What we’re trying to do is paint a picture of what does an endemic environment look like that can support īnanga, and also support the other plants that are a part of it.”

When it came to a holistic view of the wetland, Smith said there was as much unseen as there was seen.

“In terms of having more fish there, it sounds like the environment is being improved,” Smith said.

“That’s great, but it’s not the end of it. There’s a huge opportunity for more to be done.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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