New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2016) 40(1): 1- 11

Wetland reserves in New Zealand: the status of protected areas between 1990 and 2013

Review Article
Hugh A. Robertson 1*
  1. Freshwater Section, Department of Conservation, Private Bag 4715, Christchurch Mail Centre, Christchurch 8140
*  Corresponding author

The extent and integrity of wetland ecosystems in New Zealand has declined. Only an estimated 10% of the historic (pre-European) extent of inland palustrine wetlands now remains. A key mechanism for conservation of wetlands is inclusion within the protected area network, including both public and private protected areas. Review of progress in wetland reservation enables evaluation of the success of land purchase, land tenure review and other initiatives to address gaps in the national reserve system. I present the first national assessment of changes in wetland reservation between 1990 and 2013. Potential biases in wetland protection were identified by comparing differences in reservation across wetland type, wetland size, biogeographical region, and altitudinal range. At the national scale 63% of palustrine wetlands are now within protected areas, but this represents only 6% of the historical extent. Between 1990 and 2013 the extent of current wetlands protected in conservation land administered by the Department of Conservation increased from 48% to 60%, a net gain of 29 000 ha. Much of the increase in wetland reservation has occurred in the South Island, partly due to tenure review of high country land (>500 m a.s.l.). There are inconsistencies in reservation between wetland types, with lower coverage of protected areas for swamps, fens and marshes. There are also inadequacies in the completeness of wetland reserves, with a number of wetlands only partially contained within reserve boundaries. I propose a number of options for improving the reservation status of wetlands in New Zealand that will contribute to a more comprehensive, adequate and representative network of freshwater protected areas.