glaciers to wetlands

The Ōkārito wetland complex, near the Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast, is a wetland of national significance.

Since human arrival in New Zealand, more than 80% of wetlands have been lost due to drainage and clearing of vegetation. Invasive weeds, pest animals and declining water quality continue to threaten our remaining wetland ecosystems.

The Okarito wetland complex contains a huge diversity of freshwater ecosystems: coastal lagoon, kahikatea swamp forests, braided rivers and pakihi swamps. This diversity of habitat supports a wide range of plant and animal life, including many species that are threatened, or known nowhere else in New Zealand.
The white heron kotuku and royal spoonbill both breed in the area, and the endangered Australasian bittern matuku shelters here as well. 12 species of native fish can be found within the watercourses. The rowi, New Zealand’s rarest kiwi depends on the wetland ecosystems for shelter and the survival of the fewer than 400 rowi remaining in the world.

A four year sponsorship by the Air New Zealand Environment Trust (ANZET) to the Department of Conservation (DOC) is enabling the restoration of this magnificent wetland complex back to its former glory.

DOC with the help of the community has opened a community nursery at Okarito, to propagate native plant species for sites affected by logging and weed invasion within the wetland system.  Thousands of seeds and seedlings have already been collected and will be housed and processed at the nursery by the community, volunteers and DOC staff over the next four years.

A  fence has been  established to protect regenerating and newly planted vegetation from wandering stock at the Lake Wahapo kahikatea swamp forest

The project will also realise a trapping network around the Okarito Lagoon to reduce mammalian predator numbers and protect bird species in the area.

The project will engage and facilitate a greater understanding of the importance of the wetland system to the health and wellbeing or the area among both local people and visitors to the region, through interactive interpretation, opportunities for recreation and conservation activities.

With the support of ANZET, the community and DOC, New Zealanders will be able to show international visitors a thriving wetland system of a quality they will not see anywhere else on earth.

For information on activities in the Ōkārito area go to

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