In this issue we meet the extremely rare swamp helmet orchid; learn more about Waikato-Tainui; explore the roles of the different agencies that look after the wetland; and find out about what the Whangamarino Wetland team have been up to.
Swamp helmet orchid (Anzybas carsei)
Anzybas carsei, the critically endangered swamp helmet orchid, is found only in the Whangamarino Wetland and nowhere else in the world. It is a tiny plant with a beautiful flower and single leaf about the size of your little fingernail. The orchid is unique because it depends on the ground around it being disturbed by events like fire for it to flourish. In the past, lightning strikes and sparks from coal trains chugging past would have ignited the fires needed for the orchid to survive, but these fires are much less likely to occur today. For the past few years, DOC has been undertaking controlled burns around the orchids to simulate those natural fires and try to spark the orchid's resurgence.
We're happy to report the trials have been successful! In 2008, only 79 orchids were found. This year we counted over 200! We will continue research into the best time of year and how often to perform the controlled burns.
Not much is known about the swamp helmet orchid, so DOC ranger Matthew Brady recently installed a time-lapse camera to take a snapshot of what's happening every six hours. We hope to learn more about how the orchids are pollinated, when they flower and when they produce seed, and exactly what time of year these events occur.
Waikato-Tainui considers wetlands to be integral to the whakapapa of the rivers and lakes. They provide important spawning grounds for fish as well as habitat for them and other unique taaonga species. They provide important ecosystem services such as slowing peak flood flows, increasing low flows, and trapping and removing sediments and nutrients.
The people of Waikato-Tainui would store and preserve taaonga in the wetlands, as the concealing nature of the wetlands would guarantee its safety. The wetlands also nurture the koiwi of their ancestors who lost their lives during the battles of Rangiriri and Meremere. It also provided for the method of hardening traditional tools and weapons. The wetlands are areas of significance to Waikato-Tainui. Because of the important connections between wetlands, rivers, lakes and taaonga species, it is important to Waikato-Tainui to protect and enhance what we have existing today, and restore those wetlands that were lost.
New relationships with numerous organisations have led to greater understanding and a strong commitment to work together under the umbrella of co-management. The recently signed Waikato District Lakes and Wetlands Memorandum of Agreement is an example of collaborating with agencies to achieve the overarching purpose of the Waikato River Settlement. The restoration and protection of our wetlands will take a lot of work, and together in partnership with key relationships, will bring about positive change to our environment and waterways.
Meet the wetland agencies
There are a number of different agencies that all play a part in the management of the Whangamarino Wetland. Earlier this year, the Waikato District Lakes and Freshwater Wetlands Memorandum of Agreement was signed by Waikato Regional Council, the Department of Conservation, Auckland/Waikato Fish and Game Council, Waikato-Tainui,and Waikato District Council. The purpose of this is:
To recognise the values of the freshwater lakes and wetlands of the Waikato district, and to protect, enhance and restore these through alignment of our activities
when working with communities, landowners, tangata whenua and interested parties.
What's up in the Whangamarino?
Trapping weedy seeds
Two nasty weeds have emerged as a serious threat to the Whangamarino Wetland: alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). DOC ranger Kevin Hutchinson has developed an innovative 'seed trap' to stop these weeds before they reach the wetland. Both weeds are spread through the waterways. Alligator weed spreads from even the smallest of fragments and yellow flag iris releases brown, flattened, three-sided floating seed capsules. The seed trap catches these on their way into the Whangamarino, stopping them in their tracks before they can establish. The stream flows have been analysed and the trap has been carefully located to capture floating debris while allowing mobile animals like fish to move safely past. Waikato Regional Council is trialling a floating boom to see if this can prevent the seed capsules and fragments spreading too. If successful, these techniques could be deployed to help combat future outbreaks of nasty weeds in the Waikato.
Alligator weed is one of the world's worst weeds. Native to South America, alligator weed is toxic to stock and spreads from the smallest stem fragments. It grows easily both on land, where it can out-compete pasture grass and crops, and in water, where it clogs up wetlands, lakes and rivers. It looks similar to primrose willow but has a white clover-like flower from December to February (primrose willow has a yellow flower).
Yellow flag iris looks similar to flax, with yellow flowers blooming from October to December. The plant is poisonous to both humans and animals. It forms dense floating mats in water and can out-compete native species growing beside waterways as well as flood-prone pasture grass. DOC and WRC, working with Wildland Consultants, have completed a comprehensive survey and report on the distribution of yellow flag iris along the Waikato River from Ngaruawahia to Tuakau, and have also mapped yellow flag iris sites in the Whangamarino Wetland and Lake Waikare.
Conservation Week, 11-18 September 2011
This year the theme for Conservation Week was 'Show how much you love New Zealand'. Thousands of kiwis (and tourists) across the country joined together to celebrate our native wildlife, our incredible natural areas, and the places that are part of our history. They did this by taking part in conservation events and activities, watching programmes on TVNZ 7 and sharing their photos with the Love New Zealand photo group on Flickr. Take a look and get inspired to come out and enjoy your unique local environment.
To celebrate Conservation Week, primary schools surrounding the wetland braved bracing wind to plant almost 1300 native wetland plants in the Whangamarino. They can certainly feel proud of what they achieved. DOC also hosted an enjoyable and informative community kayak tour through the wetland on a delightfully sunny Saturday.