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Ramsar status finally awarded

Abe Matenga, left, Adrienne Staples, Ron Mark, and Eugenie Sage hold the Ramsar certification which arrived from the head office in France. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

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It’s a huge milestone for Wairarapa Moana and its 10,000 hectares of constituent bodies and tributaries.

The bid for Ramsar status, a process that took more than a decade, has now been formally approved by the Ramsar Convention, securing the future health of what is a fantastically biologically-diverse ecosystem.

Recognition as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention means New Zealand must manage Wairarapa Moana to protect the values that it has, to monitor them, and to report periodically to the convention.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage was at Lake Ferry Hotel on Friday, along with Defence Minister Ron Mark, the Department of Conservation, and numerous other regional political figures.

Many representatives from iwi and hapu that had been deeply involved in the Moana for generations were also present, such as Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa environmental manager, Rawiri Smith; and Abe Matenga, kaumata of Kohunui Marae.

Sage said that wetlands were vitally important for the environment.

“Wairarapa Moana has become Aotearoa New Zealand’s seventh wetland to receive this international recognition.

“Wetlands are integral to the health of the land, waterways, plants and wildlife because of the crucial ecosystem services they provide.”

In Sage’s speech, she gave thanks to the many stakeholders who had rallied to restore the health of the area for years, and mentioned the many advantages of wetlands; such as absorbing flooding like a sponge, and storing seafood during tidal flows.

Mark said that this was particularly significant for Wairarapa Maori.

“It’s taken a long time, and there are many, many people who’ve been involved, not just in striving to restore the lake to its former glory, but also trying to get people to understand the importance and significance of it – yes, to the district – but, very much to Maori.

“I think finally we’re at that point in time where the rest of the country might come to understand the importance and the significance of this lake, to the soul and the heart of Wairarapa, and to New Zealand.”

Rawiri Smith of Ngati Kahungunu explained how the lake had been underappreciated, particularly as the land was intensively farmed, leading to the toxicity of Lake Wairarapa.

“There’s a word in Maori that’s sometimes misunderstood: ‘Mauri’.

“People say it’s just ‘life-force’, but there’s more than that, it’s about the excitement of life.

“So, it’s a bit more than just being alive, it’s taking in the aura of life.

“Sometimes when you see Lake Wairarapa, on a still day: those winter days when it’s warming you up and clear as anything.

“When you catch Wairarapa Moana on that day, then you just know.

“It’s really been underappreciated for a long time.

New Zealand has lost 90 per cent of wetlands and many of those remaining are threatened by development and poor water quality.

Wairarapa Moana is managed collaboratively by the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Group made up of representatives from Rangitane o Wairarapa, Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, hapu, Greater Wellington Regional Council, South Wairarapa District Council, and the Department of Conservation.

Groups driving conservation work at Wairarapa Moana [home to 96 bird species, 25 native fish species, and countless plant species] include hapu and whanau, Ducks Unlimited, Forest and Bird, Fish and Game, South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group, and Friends of Onoke Spit, among others.

What does Ramsar status mean?

  • The Ramsar Convention on wetlands identifies significant wetlands across the world that need to be protected.
  • It was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, and now protects almost 2500 wetlands, covering more than 250 million hectares.
  • Almost 90 per cent of UN member states have become party to the convention.

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