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Conference will be ‘catalyst’ in NZ’s plans to protect its vital wetlands

A conference where experts will discuss how to best protect the earth’s precious wetlands is being held up as an example of the positive impact of business events on society.

The 11th INTECOL International Wetlands Conference, 10-15 Oct 2021 at Te Pae – Christchurch Convention Centre, New Zealand, comes as these fragile eco-systems are being destroyed.

More than 90 per cent of New Zealand’s wetlands, including peatlands, have been destroyed in the past couple of centuries, and yet they are vital for biodiversity – and sequestering carbon.

The conference, pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been chosen by Tourism New Zealand as a pilot event in its Enrich New Zealand – Conference Impact programme, which aims to measure the positive societal impact of conferences from environmental impact, to public health and job creation.

Conference chair, Dr Philippe Gerbeaux from the Department of Conservation’s Freshwater team, said: “Bringing experts from all around the world will generate some good discussions and outcomes on sustainability practices for our existing wetlands and how to re-develop wetland areas where they can protect us against floods and pollution.

“A traditional knowledge and Mātauranga Māori approach will be drawn on as we discuss sustainable policies for wetlands that best reflect current research and state-of-the-art management practices. This conference will be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and appreciation of the importance of wetlands in sustaining our New Zealand landscapes and local communities.”

New Zealanders are being urged to celebrate the country’s wetlands as plans are put in place to protect and restore these vital ecosystems to mark World Environment Day (June 5).

The worldwide UN awareness event, themed ‘Celebrate Biodiversity’, comes after New Zealand allocated NZ$1.1 billion to environmental projects in the government’s latest budget.

The sum includes NZ$154 million dedicated to enhancing biodiversity and wetlands, with the creation of 1,800 new jobs across the country.

In conjunction with World Environment Day, New Zealand opened the International Peatland Festival on May 31 with a video and presentation showcasing the array of stunning wetlands in New Zealand. Peat Fest is run by RePeat, a youth-led initiative pushing for a shift in how we view, use, and imagine peat wetlands around the world.

Karen Denyer, executive officer for The National Wetland Trust, said: “Peat plays an integral part in New Zealand’s wetland ecosystems. These boggy wonders are champions at sequestering carbon, as well as maintaining a range of endemic wildlife and fauna. But if we drain them, they become serious carbon-emitters.

“The Peat Fest opened our eyes to a major agricultural movement in Europe and Asia called paludiculture – re-wetting unsustainably farmed drained peatlands and cropping wet-adapted plants for eco-friendly and carbon-absorbing high value commodities. The potential in Aotearoa NZ is huge, and the tremendous depth of traditional ecological knowledge held by Maori will be key.”