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Thursday 2 February 2023 3:13pm

Ryan Easton with a Giant kokopu image
PhD candidate Ryan Easton holding a Giant kōkopu. He says days such as World Wetlands Days are important for raising awareness around the issues wetlands face.

Ahead of World Wetlands Day on Thursday, 2 February, internal communications adviser Koren Allpress asked members of the Zoology Department about the role of wetlands and why they matter.

Wetlands play a crucial role within the world's ecosystems, but their wellbeing is being heavily impacted by human activity, says Zoology Professor Gerard Closs.

Wetlands are defined as any area that is saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally.

“The boundary between wet and dry lands is often a bit blurry. So, if we look at the river, the wetland area would include not only the river channel itself, but also the riparian vegetation that runs alongside the stream,” says Professor Closs.

The term wetland covers marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, floodplains, estuaries, mangroves, and many other watery habitats.

“They may be natural or human-made, or a bit of both.”

Most major river catchments in New Zealand have been altered in some way by human activity.

“From introduced species, land-clearing, swamp-drainage, pasture development, urbanisation, forest clearing or dam building. All these activities impact the functioning and degrade the biodiversity of wetlands,” says Professor Closs.

As a result, 76% of Aotearoa New Zealand's native fish are threatened with or at risk of extinction.

Ryan Easton with a Banded kokopu image
Easton holding a Banded kōkopu.

University of Otago PhD candidate Ryan Easton is working on streams across Southland, studying the effects that human-made barriers to fish movement along streams have on fish communities.

Easton says environmental issues in wetlands can come about in part because of a lack of environmental education.

If people fully understood the role wetlands play in the natural environment, it would help them understand why preserving them is important, he says.

“All water, essentially, plays a role in our everyday lives. Wetlands are not just for wildlife and fish, but they have filtering properties for our freshwater, they store carbon.”

Easton says days such as World Wetland Day are important.

“I remember these days when I was in school, grade school and high school, with days like World Wetlands Day or Arbor Day, they were things that were brought to our attention.

“When you're young, that is a good place to start, getting kids to understand how important the natural world around us is. Especially as urbanisation has taken us out of nature.”

Easton is originally from Oregon in the United States. He met his wife, a Kiwi, while she was studying in the US. He arrived in Dunedin four years ago and has just completed the first year of his PhD.

-Kōrero by internal communications adviser, Koren Allpress

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