Wetlands: restoration / preservation

Wetlands for sustainability. Photo by Stephanie Tomscha. Retrieved from: wetlands-for-sustainability 

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1971) brought wetlands to international attention and defined wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish, or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed 6 m”.  Wetlands, covering 6% of the Earth’s land surface, are integral to ecosystem health (Erwin, 2009). However, urbanisation has led to the removal or degradation of many wetlands worldwide. For instance, in Aotearoa New Zealand, 90% of wetlands have been lost (Wairarapa Glistening Waters, 2024). Given their sensitivity to environmental changes, integrating biodiversity into wetland restoration efforts is crucial for enhancing their resilience to climate change (Department of Conservation).

Wetlands play key roles in retaining sediment and nutrients, providing flood protection, and maintaining water quality. Hence, their preservation and restoration are imperative. Various strategies are employed, often in combination, including: restoring hydrological flows through reconnecting to streams or creating channels; revegetation and habitat regeneration; controlling weeds and pests; implementing erosion control measures; and removing contaminants from industrial or agricultural sources (Clarkeson & Peters, 2012). Remediation techniques like sediment dredging, soil capping, and bio or phytoremediation may also be necessary in this process.

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Name of NbS

Wetlands: restoration / preservation

Type of NbS

Ecosystem restoration

Location

 Locations of wetlands can be anywhere along the rural to urban gradient. Urbanisation has led to much draining of wetlands.

Rano Kau Crater – Humedal Rano Kau Wetland on Rapanui Easter Island, 2015. Photo by Rita Willaert

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Many Indigenous peoples in Te Moananui Oceania possess deep knowledge of specific local ecosystems, including wetlands, which has been passed down through generations. This knowledge encompasses understanding of wetland biodiversity, hydrology, soil health, and the interactions between human communities and wetland ecosystems. Incorporating this knowledge and practice into restoration projects can provide valuable insights into historical conditions, ecosystem dynamics, and effective restoration techniques.

Indigenous communities in Te Moananui Oceania have developed sophisticated customary resource management practices that are sometimes centered around wetlands. These practices include techniques for sustainable harvesting of wetland animals and plants, as well as traditional farming methods that utilise wetland ecosystems for food production (see: slow-forming terraces). 


Wetlands are clearly important to Indigenous people in Te Moananui Oceania. To illustrate this, in Aotearoa MBIE’s Vision Mātauranga and Te Herenga Waka’s Mātauranga Māori funds have worked to crate a digital wetlands platform with Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa (Indigenous people of the area) that captures interviews, maps, virtual tours, videos, and virtually reality related to the culturally critical wetlands of the Wairarapa (Wairarapa Glistening Waters, 2024).

Of the Wairarapa lake and wetlands, Smith (2024) states:

‘From a Māori worldview Wairarapa Moana is a tipuna (ancestor), a taonga (treasure), a place where atua (ancestors with continuing influence / supernatural beings) are observed, and a place of mana (power) and mauri (life force). The moana is viewed in a holistic way and is an intrinsic part of te tuakiri (the identity) of uri (descendants) of the moana.There are varying kōrero (accounts) about the moana held by whānau, hapū, iwi (families, subtribes, tribes)’.

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Climate change benefits
  •  Biomass cover loss
  • changes in rainfall
  • freshwater flooding
  • increased pests or spread of weeds
  • increased temperatures
  • reduced air quality
  • reduced water quality
  • sea level rise
  • reduced freshwater availability

Wetlands are an important ecosystem in the global carbon cycle as they contain 12% of the global carbon storage (Erwin, 2009). For wetlands, carbon is able to accumulate on the soil and vegetation over time which makes them “effective and long-term nature-based approaches to mitigate climate change” (Taillardat et al., 2020). This means wetlands store and sequester carbon but also contribute to the cooling and humidification of local regional microclimates through evapotranspiration (An & Verhoeven, 2019). Wetland restoration responses to climate change in the future require an understanding of climatic and ecological changes (Erwin, 2009).

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • water security and quality
  • food security.   

Enhancing biodiversity within wetland landscapes can bolster resilience against the impacts of disasters and sea-level rise. The restoration of wetlands and floodplains serves as a crucial defense against floods (McVitte, A et al., 2018). Utilising wetlands as natural buffers, as well as sources of food and water, can mitigate environmental and societal impacts, fostering greater resilience (Kumar et al., 2017). This approach not only aids communities in weathering extreme events but also promotes sustainable, long-term recovery efforts (McVitte et al., 2018). 

Wetlands offer various additional environmental benefits such as water purification, thereby contributing to a clean sustainable water supply for growing populations. 

The restoration of wetlands not only increases fish stocks, providing a vital protein source and economic opportunities for local communities (Clarkson et al., 2013), but also restores traditional food gathering areas. In Aotearoa New Zealand these are called mahinga kai for example (Clarkson et al., 2013). These ecological and cultural benefits form an intrinsic connection for communities to wetlands, especially in the face of changing climates.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Biological control
  • climate regulation
  • creation of a sense of place
  • disturbance prevention
  • education and knowledge
  • habitat provision
  • medicinal resources
  • purification

Wetlands serve crucial functions in ecosystem health and human well-being. They act as natural water filters, removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, thereby improving water quality (An & Verhoeven, 2019). 

Wetlands are renowned for supporting abundant bird and fish populations, often surpassing those found in forest landscapes (Department of Conservation, 2024). 

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Wetland area maintenance, One’ Oneabu village, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. Photo by Filip Milovac.

Technical requirements

To begin restoring wetlands in Te Moananui Oceania, a comprehensive restoration plan must be developed, outlining the specific objectives, strategies, and timeline for the project. This plan should include a detailed planting schema that identifies suitable native plant species for the region and outlines their distribution within the wetland area. Additionally, consideration should be given to the timing and method of planting to ensure optimal establishment and growth of vegetation.

In Te Moananui Oceania, where invasive weeds and pests can pose significant challenges to wetland restoration efforts, effective weed and pest management strategies are crucial. This may involve the implementation of integrated pest management techniques, such as the use of biological controls and removal. Regular monitoring and surveillance are essential to identify and address weed and pest infestations promptly, preventing them from undermining restoration outcomes.

Ongoing maintenance of restored wetlands is necessary to ensure their long-term success. Community involvement in maintenance activities can help foster a sense of stewardship and ownership among local residents, ensuring continued support for wetland conservation efforts.

Issues and Barriers

In Te Moananui Oceania, wetland restoration encounters various challenges and barriers. These include the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more frequent disasters, which necessitate resilient planting strategies capable of coping with changing conditions and increased pollutant loads. Additionally, habitat loss and degradation due to rapid urbanisation, and infrastructure development as well as agriculture pose significant obstacles to restoration efforts.

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Invasive species further threaten wetland ecosystems, requiring ongoing management despite limited resources. Pollution and contamination from agricultural runoff, industrial discharges, and urban activities also hinder restoration progress by compromising water quality. 

Limited funding, expertise, and institutional capacity main constrain restoration initiatives. Regulatory challenges, policy inconsistencies, and land tenure issues may further complicate restoration efforts, highlighting the need for streamlined regulations and enhanced collaboration among government agencies, local peoples, and NGOs.

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Opportunities

Wetland restoration in Te Moananui Oceania offers diverse opportunities to promote environmental conservation, cultural revitalisation, recreational enjoyment, biodiversity conservation, and economic development.

In Te Moananui Oceania, wetland restoration offers a multitude of opportunities that extend beyond ecological rehabilitation. One significant opportunity lies in the creation of educational platforms centred around wetland restoration, fostering a deeper understanding of these ecosystems (Wairarapa Glistening Waters, 2024).

Integrating indigenous cultural values and practices into wetland restoration efforts presents a unique opportunity to honour and celebrate traditional knowledge. By weaving in elements of culture and recreation, restoration projects can enhance their significance and relevance to local communities, fostering a sense of cultural pride and identity (Wairarapa Glistening Waters, 2024).

Restored wetlands also offer opportunities for recreational activities, such as birdwatching, tramping, and kayaking. By providing amenities such as walking trails, viewing platforms, and interpretive signage, these projects can create valuable recreational spaces that promote health and well-being while attracting tourists and supporting local businesses.

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Financial case

Wetland restoration in Te Moananui Oceania presents significant financial advantages. Restored wetlands not only offer essential services such as water purification and flood control, enhancing property values and attracting tourism, but they also play a crucial role in supporting fisheries and agriculture. Additionally, these restored ecosystems contribute to climate change adaptation, providing resilience against extreme weather events. In essence, investing in wetland restoration not only ensures long-term economic prosperity but also safeguards natural resources and resilience to environmental changes.

References
  • An, S., & Verhoeven, J. T. (2019). Wetland functions and ecosystem services: Implications for wetland restoration and wise use (pp. 1-10). Springer International Publishing.
  • Department of Conservation (2014). Why wetlands are important. Available online: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/habitats/wetlands/why-wetlands-are-important/. Date accessed 9 May, 2024.
  • Erwin, K. L. (2009). Wetlands and global climate change: the role of wetland restoration in a changing world. Wetlands Ecology and management17(1), 71-84.
  • Kumar, R., Tol, S., McInnes, R. J., Everard, M., & Kulindwa, A. A. (2017). Wetlands for disaster risk reduction: Effective choices for resilient communities. Ramsar Policy Brief1.
  • Peters, M., & Clarkson, B. (2010). Wetland restoration: a handbook for New Zealand freshwater systems. Manaaki Whenua Press, Landcare Research.
  • Smith, S (2024). Ancient Stories of Wairarapa Moana. In Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wairarapa Moana Wetlands. Available online: https://www.waiwetlands.org.nz/. Date accessed 9 May, 2024.
  • The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (The Convention on Wetlands) (1971). Ramsar, Iran.
  • Taillardat, P., Thompson, B. S., Garneau, M., Trottier, K., & Friess, D. A. (2020). Climate change mitigation potential of wetlands and the cost-effectiveness of their restoration. Interface Focus10(5), 20190129.

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