New Zealand’s freshwater and wetland habitats are incredible places that support the greatest concentration of wildlife - more than any other habitat in the country! There are lots of different types of these habitats in NZ. These include lakes, rivers, streams, swamps and bogs, estuaries, geothermal pools, etc.
Rushing freshwater streams and calm, beautiful lakes make the perfect place for many species of fish and birds to live.
Many species of birds and fish rely on the water and plants that freshwater and wetland habitats provide. These amazing animals (and plants) have adapted to thrive in these environments. They wouldn’t want to, and often can’t survive, anywhere else. When these environments are healthy and thriving, they offer animals food, shelter, a place to raise their young, and everything else they need to lead happy, healthy lives.
These habitats are also important for humans as certain plants trap carbon, making them essential for managing climate change, they boost the quality of water, and they reduce the risk of flooding.
Have a look below at the amazing taonga that make freshwater and wetland habitats their home, what challenges they face, and how you can help!
Did you know that there are over 50 freshwater fish species that are native to New Zealand? In addition to that, there are hundreds of invertebrates, plenty of birds and non-native animals that inhabit these areas. Have a look below at some of the cool animals you can find in fresh water and wetland habitats below:
Freshwater and wetland plants vary depending on their ability to grow in either moist soil, swampy areas, directly in still water, or all of the above!
Below are just some of the examples of the hundreds of species of flora that you can find in these habitats:
New Zealand’s precious freshwater and wetland habitats face many threats and challenges that can cause the plants and animals that live there to disappear and/or be left without a place to live. Sadly, New Zealand has already lost more than 90% of its original wetland habitats due to human activities such as agricultural and urban development… and unfortunately, it’s still happening! Have a look below, at some of the challenges our vulnerable wetlands are facing:
Just like forests, many wetlands and freshwater habitats have been completely destroyed over the years since people settled in New Zealand. These habitats have been filled in and drained to make way for urban and rural development like carparks, malls, houses, etc., and land for farming. This process has sadly eliminated the vegetation and animals who have made these demolished areas their homes.
Additionally, when the sand and gravel is removed from these habitats, it changes the water levels and damages the vegetation that that freshwater species need to survive.
Furthermore, pollution from the excess run-off of sediment and nutrients from farmlands, the removal of streamside vegetation, and the building of dams have also impacted these precious habitats.
People have introduced a number of different weeds to New Zealand. Some of these weeds have thrived in and destroyed freshwater and wetland habitats with their dense growth, deep roots and ability to easily regenerate, making them difficult to remove.
They have taken over native plants, blocked drainage in waterways, and destroyed embankments built to prevent rivers from flooding.
With climate change comes increased frequency and intensity of extreme events such as higher temperatures, flooding, droughts, storms, and wildfires. These events can lead to the destruction of freshwater and wetland habitats, causing a decrease in plants and animals, or forcing animals to find new homes if they can – though this is becoming much more difficult if there are not natural habitats for them to go to.
Water pollution is a serious threat to New Zealand’s plants and animals as it makes freshwater and wetland habitats inhabitable.
With nearly 75% of the native freshwater fish facing the threat of extinction, this is a huge problem. Some contributing factors to this threat is land use from intensive agriculture, forestry, urban development, and human recreation, which is further threatened by climate change.
The run-off of sediment, fertilizers and animal excrement, disrupts the natural balance of these habitats, creates poor water quality, and cases algal growth that starves the water of oxygen, which animals, just like us, need to survive.
Humans have also been affected by this issue as heaps of rivers and lakes are unsafe for swimming due to the dangerous bacteria levels and the growth of algae.
Human recreational activities
Careless jet-skiing, hunting, kayaking, power boating and whitebaiting, can disturb plant and animal life and can destroy wetland environments.
Overfishing can have a devastating effect on the population numbers of precious native fish and eels. Anyone who fishes recreationally in New Zealand has a legal requirement to follow the recreational fishing rules. The rules change often – so people should check the rules and restrictions for the area they’re going each and every time they plan to go out fishing.
Taking action to help conserve freshwater and wetland habitats is essential so that we can protect the plants and animals that live there. We have a responsibility to be responsible animal advocates and speak out for change!
Check out some of the ways that you can help:
Volunteer planting trees and plants
There are lots of places where you and your family can volunteer your time planting trees. This helps keep our fresh water areas and wetlands full of native species and helps feed and provide shelter for the animals that live there.
Organize a community stream clean-up
Encourage your friends, family, and whānau to come together to do a stream clean-up! Protecting the environments where these animals live is one of the most important actions you can take to protect these vulnerable animals.
Say no to pesticides and fertilizers that harm wetlands
Pesticides and fertilizers can lead to runoff that can pollute fresh water habitats. The chemicals in this runoff can harm aquatic plants, and animals. Instead, consider natural alternatives for the garden like planting onion, garlic or marigolds.
When out exploring nature, stick to the paths
Sticking to the paths allows plants to grow and not get damaged by people accidentally walking on them. This also allows wildlife to have areas that they can call their very own, where they will not be disturbed.
As we know, rubbish has huge negative impact on several animals and their habitats. Animals can get caught up in or ingest rubbish, which can lead to serious injuries or even death.
Not only is it important to NEVER ever litter, but if you ever see litter, dispose of it properly so that it doesn’t make its way into animal habitats!
Give wildlife space
It’s always important to admire wildlife from a distance. Remain quiet, don’t approach them, and give them the respect they deserve. Birds and insects help spread seeds and pollen so it’s important to give them the room so they feel safe to carry out their important jobs!
Keep companion animals under control
When exploring freshwater and wetland environments, only take your dog to areas that allow them, and keep them under control. Be sure to keep your dog on lead and/or that they stay in designated off-lead areas and that they do not disturb wildlife and protected areas. If you are in an off-lead area and you come across wildlife put your dog on a lead immediately and lead them away, warn other dog owners at the location that there is wildlife around.
Notify Department of Conservation (DOC) if you see wildlife being harassed by people or dogs.
Keep your cat safe and happy at home!
Contained cats are more likely to enjoy a longer, healthier life. This includes spending more quality time with you, keeping them safe from road traffic, avoiding problems with your neighbours, and reducing the risk they will harm or kills other animals. You can contain your cat by cat-proofing an outdoor area, using a combination of indoors and a secure outdoor enclosure, or keeping your cat indoors. You will need to provide them with opportunities to meet their physical and behavioural needs.
Write a polite letter or email
You can write a polite email or letter to the government urging further protection and restoration of the few precious wetlands we have left.
Spread the word
Let friends, family, and classmates know about threats to fresh water and wetland habitats and what they can do to help.
If you see a wild animal that is not sick, injured, or in danger. It is best to give them space and let them go about their day.
If you find a wild animal who is sick or injured, remember to put everyone’s safety first and with the help of an adult, call the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
DOC can help you locate a local wildlife rescue and/or come help the animal. It’s important to be as precise as possible about the animal’s location so they can be found quickly.