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Wetland protection celebrated

Eugenie Sage and Alex Beijen planted a tree at the lakeside. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

ARTHUR HAWKES
[email protected]

On Friday, on World Environment Day, those involved in the protection of Wairarapa Moana wetlands convened to celebrate the government’s decision to nominate the area for recognition at the next Ramsar convention.

The nomination is a step to ensuring international co-operation and protection for the sacred, biologically-diverse area.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage met representatives from the Rangitane and Kahungunu iwi groups, the Department of Conservation, South Wairarapa District Council, and members of the public, to celebrate the landmark decision from the government.

Wairarapa Moana. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa Moana is the largest wetland complex in the southern North Island, supporting native plants and animals of national and international significance.

Made up of the beds of Lake Wairarapa and Lake Onoke, as well as the publicly-owned reserves around them, the area covers over 9000 hectares, from Lake Domain in the north to the Onoke Spit, 30km away at Palliser Bay.

Tai Gemmell, general manager of the Kahungunu iwi group, opened proceedings by welcoming the assembled company.

This was followed by Kahungunu spokesman Ra Smith, who detailed the history of Wairarapa, as well as the cultural significance of the area.

“I dream of the day when we come in busloads,” said Smith, who recalled fishing and eeling in the waters as a boy.

New Zealand, which has lost 90 per cent of its wetlands, has just seven wetland areas with Ramsar protection; Australia has 67.

“67-7: if that was a rugby score we’d call it a thrashing.”

Mayor Alex Beijen said that Ramsar status will give “a level of recognition and importance with regard to future work in the restoration of the lake”.

“While it’s only a bit of paper, it gives us the impetus, the mandate, and the desire to push forward the plans that have been around for many decades.”

Jim Flack of DOC presented three native trees to be planted at the lakeside, which prompted the minister, the mayor, and others to get digging.

Gemmell, who has been involved with the wetlands for many years, said that the area had once been a “plentiful land” made into a “desolate land” – but said that this was now “coming full circle”.

Speaking with the Times-Age, the minister was keen to emphasise the importance of the wetlands, and the path that led up to the Ramsar nomination.

“It has been a long process, between 27 different groups, working to restore the health of Wairarapa Moana,” Sage said.

“Treaty partners working with DOC, with land holders, and with different community representatives evolved into the Pukaha to Palliser alliance, with a shared regeneration vision.

“Settlement over decades has led the water quality to decline, so the process of applying for Ramsar status was seeking to get the wider community and public of New Zealand to recognise the significance of this wetland.”

The minister also said that wetlands were a key natural defence against flooding, which is set to get worse due to sea-level rise.

“We’ve got a long way to go to learn the lessons that other countries are using for natural, soft engineering – where you’re using nature, instead of having hard stop banks, and creating more wetlands to buffer areas against floods.”

Sage said she was pleased with the gathering, and the just cause for celebration.

“What more fitting way to mark World Environment Day than to have a celebration of a key stage in having Ramsar status accorded to Wairarapa Moana – and to really acknowledge the treaty partnership and how they have been so heavily involved in this whole process.”

Ramsar – what’s it all about?

  • The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971.
  • The convention’s mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions, and international co-operation with organisations such as Unesco.

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