What Are Wetlands?
Merriam Webster defines wetlands as land or areas (as marshes or swamps) that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture. Wetlands can be found either inland or close to the shore and serve a wide variety of functions:
- They usually trap sediments and soils,
- Filter the land’s nutrients
- Remove contaminants
- Protects lands from from storm surge
- Bring nitrogen to the atmosphere.
There are four major types of wetlands, namely, bogs, coastal wetlands, swamps and lakes or ponds.
● Bogs - They are rare bodies of wetlands and are usually fed by rainfall. Bogs are low on fertility and acidic in nature, but they house a variety of native plants, especially the sphagnum moss. Bogs also support other plants such as umbrella ferns, sedges and the manuka.
● Coastal Wetlands- Commonly called estuaries, they are considered the most productive among the wetland types since they are rich in animal life. Most fisheries depend on estuaries as spawning or breeding grounds of fishes.
● Swamps - Most wetlands situated on a private lands are called swamps. They are considered more fertile than bogs because they bring silt and some organic matter through their water. Their water level fluctuates from time to time. Plants found in a swamp usually include purei, raupo and flax. Through these plants, a vast aquatic invertebrates live the area such as snails and frogs.
● Lakes and ponds - Wetlands with shallow margins and surrounded with vegetation to provide habitats for the animal species. Lakes are permanent freshwater wetlands. Ponds are small bodies of still water, formed at times by hollowing or embanking.
Why Wetland Restoration Is Important
Wetlands support and sustain a significant number of animal species. In fact, 22% of native birds found in New Zealand live within these wetlands. Not only that, many of the commercially important freshwater fishes in the country also live within these wetlands. Wetlands also house birds, insects and other species that help maintain the ecological balance, encouraging biodiversity. And since most animals in New Zealand can’t be found anywhere else in the world, conservation and restoration is vital. Some of the species that can thrive and are protected by wetlands include:
● Spotless crake - they usually nestle in shallow wetlands and among sheltering sedges with the manukas.
● Fernbird - they can be found on dense shrubs and small trees like the manukas.
● Pied stilt - they feed on worms that are usually found in wetlands while they nest of some clumps of rushes.
● Scaup - usually found on deep, clear swamps
● Mallard - of the popular birds living on wetlands, they usually prefer shallow waters on the edge of a pond
● Dabchick - they can be found on floating rafts of vegetation.
Wetlands will save also protected plant species in the process. The process of wetland restoration primarily the revegetation of native species. But once these plants thrive, other indigenous and commercially viable plants will start to thrive. Just some of the plants that can be saved by wetland restoration include:
● Kamaru - has quick cover, prevents and controls erosion, and can used as nurse crop.
● Manuka - hardy pioneer is fast-growing, and can grow on different types of soil.
● Kahikatea - slow-growing but they grow into large trees and produces fruits
● Toetoe - can grow even on poor soil, although they are suitable for damp and dry soils
● Harakeke (flax) - can withstand five centimeters of water. Harakeke splits into small fans and is unpalatable to possums.
● mTi kouka - can tolerate wet and dry soils and is hardy, controls erosion also.
● Lake Clubrush - blooms in fertile water (0.8 metres deep), can withstand salt water. Wildlife shelter for most animal species.
● Purei - grows in shallow water, dry soil and boggy margins, and is nesting areas for birds.
Why Invest In Wetland Restoration
Investing in wetland restoration offers numerous benefits. The national and local government provides strong support, and at time funding, for wetland restoration projects. Resource application consents for these projects are often given priority, if they involve the use of economically viable or protected species or if the property would be used for research.
Wetland restoration also offers more long term ecological benefits for the land as well. Wetland restoration eventually minimizes the risk of flood. Properties with wetlands do not run the risk of any surge and at times they help contain it protecting neighboring properties.
Restoration also improves the water quality. Wetland plants sift contaminants helping to protect the water table. It can even serve as an alternative irrigation source if the wetland is large enough.
All in all, the benefits of wetland restoration outweigh the costs. It’s a cost effective way to help reestablish ecological balance for a piece of property while providing more economic opportunities through the protection and cultivation of commercially viable species.