Wetlands, known as repo in te reo Māori, are threatened ecosystems in Aotearoa New Zealand. Repo experts provide an introduction to the value of wetlands.
- What are some of the benefits of repo?
- Why does Shaun say that repo have a bad reputation? Why do you think repo were once considered threats?
- What does Yvonne mean when she says we need to lift the status of repo?
- Cheri says that repo helped shape how she is as a person. What do you think this means?
Repo, or wetlands, are just that – they’re wet lands. They have soggy ground or standing water, and they also contain plants and animals that are adapted to the wet conditions.
Repo are part of this beautiful landscape narrative between wai and whenua. They are about a whakapapa that my tūpuna were a part of and helped shape who they were and, as a result of that, shaped who I am as a person.
Repo are important because they provide many benefits for people around the world. They purify water by removing sediments and nutrients and contaminants that are washed in from the land. They minimise the effect of floods. They also remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.
If your wetland is drained or if it’s paru – if it’s full of contamination – it’s not going to heal anything. In New Zealand, we have deprived the Earth of a way of keeping itself well.
I think repo have a bad reputation with a number of members of our society, because as a farming type of society, we see repo as threats to our ability to grow grass and put sheep and cows on there – so “We need to drain those repo so we can put more animals and stock on those areas.” So they’re seen as a negative thing in the past.
Repo has been the poor cousin of our wai and whenua. It’s been really important to lift the status of repo and to communicate all the wonderful work that’s been going on within the repo.
Repo are going to be very useful in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. But also importantly, repo are important food sources, not only for the wider ecology, but also for humans as well. Māori used to use repo as food sources. Tuna were plentiful in these areas. Additionally, repo provide a lot of medicinal plants – there’s the rongoā plants that are within the repo.
We only have 10% of our original wetlands, so wetlands are a threatened ecosystem. Within wetlands, we have many threatened plants and animals, including Fred the Thread, Houdinia flexilissima, reputed to be the world’s skinniest caterpillar. So when the wetlands disappear, our plants disappear. It’s a loss of the wetland ecosystem as a whole.
Footage of Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman on Waikato Awa, with permission of Waikato-Tainui College of Research and Development
Footage, Rob McGowan in ngahere, brewing a rongoā tea, cleansing in wai and shots of waterfall, from Waka Huia, Scottie Productions
Waipapa mire (fen) at Pureora Forest Park, Waikato, Awarua Bog and wetlands with sedges, Dr Beverley Clarkson, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. Chapter 3, Wetlands Restoration: A handbook for New Zealand freshwater systems
Footage, diggers in wetland, NZ Green Party, CC BY 3.0
Photos, draining the Kaitaia Swamp using a dredge, and Draining the Kaitaia Swamp 1930s, Northwood Brothers Collection (1900–1950), Museum @ Te Ahu
Photo, Australasian bittern wrestling an eel. Foxton Beach, April 2017, Imogen Warren Photography
Historical photo, women fishing for matamata on the Waikato River near Tuakau. James Cowan, The Maori: yesterday and to-day. Wellington: Whitcombe & Tombes, 1930. Sourced from Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland
Historical photo, bird hunters with their catch of black swans, ca. 1910. Northwood Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
Close-up photo, kawakawa leaves, Jon Sullivan, CC BY-NC 2.0
Photo, kawakawa tincture soaking, Jamie Watson
Photos of ‘Fred the Thread’ caterpillar and adult moth, Birgit E. Rhode, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research
Photos, Sporadanthus rushes, Dr Beverley Clarkson, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research
Photo, swamp maire, chauncy, CC BY-NC 4.0. Sourced from iNaturalistNZ.