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Conservation Minister opens new wetland at Ohaaki

At 12.30pm today, the Minister of Conservation, Hon Kate Wilkinson officially opened a newly constructed wetland in the Ohaaki region and praised Fish & Game NZ and Contact Energy for their efforts in the establishment of what she calls “a natural resource of critical importance as wetlands are one the most threatened habitats in New Zealand.”

The upper Waikato is estimated to have lost 200 hectares of riverside wetland over the past decade, says Eastern Fish & Game Council Chairman Barry Roderick, “so the Ohaaki wetland project focused on recreating the type of wetland once found in the region.”

Established on 35 hectares of land beside the Waikato River, the Ohaaki wetland is a unique marshland that enhances biodiversity in the Ohaaki region by providing ideal habitat for waterfowl and other bird life, including rare or endangered species such as the While heron (kotuku).

The wetland has been developed on subsiding land on the Ohaaki geothermal field, caused by over extraction of geothermal fluid in the first 5 – 10 years after the Ohaaki power station was commissioned in 1989, prior to Contact owning it.

The development of the wetland has been a two-year project which has transformed previously unused land impacted by subsidence into a useful natural resource that will help to restore an ecosystem that provides irreplaceable benefits for the area, said Contact Chief Executive, Dennis Barnes at the opening today.

Contact gifted the land for the wetland development and funding for the $1 million development was provided through the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust and the Wairakei Environmental Mitigation Charitable Trust (WEMCT). WEMCT was created by Contact as part of the company’s efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts of its Wairakei operations.

“We at Fish & Game applaud Contact Energy and the two funding trusts, the Wairakei Environmental Mitigation Charitable Trust and the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust, for their support,” says Barry.

In order for the wetland to flourish, stable water levels were needed to provide suitable habitat for waterfowl breeding and hunting. As the wetland uses subsiding land which is prone to flooding, the team at Fish & Game constructed a 1,200-metre long and 3-metre high earth bund (a stopbank) to separate the river and the wetland, using 40,000 cubic metres of earth - enough to fill 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“The creation of a completely new wetland is not common in New Zealand so it’s very exciting for us to have the opportunity to be involved with a project of this type and, thanks to Fish & Game, this project has been a success,” says Dennis.

Since its successful completion, the Ohaaki wetland has also inspired similar projects in the region. Recently a number of local farmers have developed an interest in restoring wetlands and a further 20 wetland projects are now under way, something that Fish & Game are keen on seeing more of.

“We’re keen to build on the success of Ohaaki and we’re more than willing to work with organisations like Contact, other funding trusts, and local bodies to explore and develop wetland and riparian projects for the benefits of hunters, conservationists and iwi,” says Barry.

Complete with a wildlife viewing hide and a 900-metre walking track, the Ohaaki wetland is open to the public throughout the year in between hunting seasons.

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