World Wetlands Day 2001: New Zealand


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World Wetlands Day at Okarito Lagoon

Status report on Wetlands Outings

Two outings at Okarito Lagoon lived up to all the expectations of organiser Merryn Bayliss, Rural Advocate for Franz Josef/South Westland. Guests included Okarito residents as well as representatives from a range of organisations, including Westland District Council, Fish & Game, the West Coast Conservation Board, South Westland Area School and DOC.

The outings celebrated World Wetlands Day (2nd February) and were designed to give local people an opportunity to learn about the ecology of the Okarito Lagoon and its associated wetlands. Guests sat back with their binoculars as they cruised around the lagoon in a tour boat. Along the way, various wetlands experts spoke on a range topics, including the birdlife, plants and fish of Okarito Lagoon, threats to the lagoon, and use of the area by recreationalists and commercial operators (eelers, tourist operators). Speakers included Philippe Gerbeaux (Senior Technical Support Officer, West Coast Conservancy Office), Ian James of Okarito, Ian Hadland of West Coast Fish & Game and several researchers involved with core sampling work at the lagoon. Keri Hulme also spoke about past Maori use of Okarito Lagoon.

After returning to shore the guests wandered back to historic Okarito building Donovan’s Store, where a sumptuous lunch was provided. Philippe rounded the day off with a wetlands slideshow that illustrated the many values and important functions of wetlands.

Newspaper article

Not very many people realise that the 2nd of February marks World Wetlands Day, a day to celebrate the many wonderful wetlands we have on the Coast.

To mark the occasion, two outings were organised at Okarito Lagoon, so locals could learn about the birds, plants, fish and importance of the lagoon. A variety of people came along, including Okarito residents, as well as people representing West Coast Fish & Game, Westland District Council, the West Coast Conservation Board, South Westland Area School and DOC.

The day started with a boat ride out on the lagoon. The boat was a tour boat, with enough room for 16 people. We spent about two hours cruising around the lagoon and up the Okarito Delta. Along the way we stopped and different people gave talks about the native birds and plants at the lagoon. Ian James of Okarito pointed out godwits, oystercatchers, pied stilts, shags and kotuku, the white heron. Around 70 (I think this is less than that but it probably does not matter!) types of birds use the lagoon.

Philippe Gerbeaux from DOC showed us some of the types of plants that grow around the wetlands. One of the main plants, called oioi, has a stem with joints in it, and is orange-coloured. Another kind, called sea rush, looks whitish and grows by the waters edge near the mouth. It disappears further up the lagoon where the water is less salty.

Philippe also explained the difference between different kinds of wetlands. A bog (pakihi) only gets rainwater, so is nutrient poor. A swamp is much more rich in nutrients because it gets fed by river water or ground water too. Because swamps are rich in nutrients, many of them have been drained for farming.

Quite a few researchers have being doing work at the lagoon, and some of them spoke to us about what they’ve been finding out. They’ve been taking samples of the sediment and looking for signs of events like tsunamis. Layers of stones and shells in the sediment show that some big event must have happened to bring it into the lagoon.

Up the creek we bobbed around for a bit while Keri Hulme told us about Maori association with the lagoon. About four different groups of Maori probably stayed at Okarito at some time. These were Waitaha, Kati Wairaki, Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu. Eels, or tuna, were the main attraction, and adult kanakana, upokokoroa and inaka were also plentiful. Maori also ate "karito" – the shoot of the raupo, and sometimes the pollen of raupo was made into a cake.

Ian Hadland from Fish and Game told us about some of game species at the lagoon. Not very much duckshooting occurs, and the main types bagged are grey duck and mallards. Ian said that over the next few years, hunters will need to change to steel shot from lead shot, because lead shot can pollute wetlands and get passed along the food chain to humans. Steel shot is a lot more expensive than lead shot, so Ian thought some hunters might be reluctant to change to steel shot.

Back on dry land we went to Donovan’s Store, which is an historic building. One of the older guests could remember going there when he was four years old. At the store we had a cup of tea and lunch, and then Philippe gave a slide show. The slides showed different kinds of wetlands plants and animals, and examples of healthy wetlands and badly managed wetlands. Philippe also explained the different ways wetlands can help humans and therefore play an important economic role not often acknowledged. For instance, wetlands help reduce flood damage because they absorb some of the floodwater. When wetlands are drained the water can’t be absorbed so floods are bigger and cause important damages (like in the Waikato 3 years ago).

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