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Why wetlands are important

Why wetlands are important

Updated 6 December 2021 12:08pm

Wetlands form a critical boundary between the land and water. No matter the shape or size, these wet areas are beneficial to our environment and communities. They are crucial for the health of our environment and ecosystems, and are of significant cultural importance for Māori, and provide important habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals.

Environmental benefits

Wetlands are important to the environment because they:

  • Help to maintain water quality: Wetlands act as a natural ‘filter’ for water. The plants absorb nutrients and trap sediment suspended in water, which would otherwise make its way into our freshwater system.
  • Reduce the impacts of flooding and drought: Wetland plants slow the water flow from the land, and slowly release water in dry periods. This is particularly important during periods of high or low rainfall.
  • Can lock up carbon: Certain types of wetland, including peatlands, can store carbon and help protect us from climate change. The peatlands in Queen Elizabeth Park (QEP) are a good example of this.
  • Support endangered species: Wetlands support a diverse range of plants and animals. Many of these are rare and threatened species which can only live in this specific environment. They can be important breeding sites and nurseries for young fish and migratory birds.

Cultural Value

Wetlands are taonga (sacred), and are of great cultural significance to Māori. Wetlands are still a valuable site for traditional mahinga kai activities (food resourcing). In the past, when wetlands were more prevalent, the water was once used as transport corridors, provided building supplies and contained many wahi tapu sites.

Te Mana o te Wai

At the heart of the new regulations around freshwater management is ‘Te Mana o te Wai’, a concept and framework which is derived out of Te Ao Māori. This concept recognises the intrinsic value of New Zealand’s freshwater, whose health is integral to the social, cultural, economic and environmental wellbeing of communities.


As a Regional Council, we have an important role in implementing and enforcing a range of rules and regulations around wetland management. There are national, regional, and sometimes district level regulations that aim to protect the wetlands that remain in the Wellington Region.

The Essential Freshwater regulations address tangata whenua values and interests across all well-beings. The new regulations solidify relationships between tangata whenua and councils, and encourage further protection of Māori values.