An exploration of wetland managers' perceptions about wetland health in New Zealand

Abbie Spiers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

This thesis explores perceptions of wetland health among individuals involved in the management of wetlands in NZ. Other socially-oriented aspects of wetland health including wetland management-related role/s, challenges, barriers, successes and personal journeys are also explored.
Throughout NZ and internationally, there is increasing interest in improving the management of wetlands, and in creating or restoring wetlands to replace those lost through drainage and development. Such efforts include the International Convention on Wetlands’ global promotion and support of the wise use and sustainable development of wetlands. However, wetland ecosystems have been severely impacted by historical drainage, and wetland loss and degradation continues today. Significant management challenges exist, particularly in agricultural areas where water quality will continue to decline and remnant wetlands to disappear without comprehensive, collaborative action by all stakeholders to address environmental impacts and farm more sustainably. Understanding the socially-oriented aspects of wetland health and management including the perceptions of key stakeholders is important for agencies trying to maximise the effectiveness of policy implementation and uptake of innovative wetland management techniques.
This mixed methods study collected data from over 60 wetland managers in NZ through semi-structured interviews, a photo elicitation activity, an electronic survey, and media analysis. Socially-oriented aspects of wetland ecosystem health were explored including wetland managers’ perceptions of wetland health and the key indicators they use to determine health; wetland management role/s; key wetland-related challenges, barriers, successes and personal journeys. Thematic outcomes of the study indicate that wetland managers derive a range of monetary and non-monetary benefits from wetland ecosystems and perceive them to be key settings for human health and well-being, including in relation to personal ‘sense of place’, whakapapa and connection to nature. The study findings also demonstrate the complexity of the wetland manager’s role and the versatility and persistence required of the diverse individuals involved in wetland management and restoration throughout NZ.
In addition, study participants’ responses and relevant literature indicate that political will to implement real change in wetland management is lacking in NZ. This is out of step with the will of wetland managers, as shown by the study findings, and the environmental concerns and values of the NZ public. This thesis shows that effective action to improve wetlands and water bodies as settings for human health and well-being will have the support of wetland managers and many New Zealanders. Study participants considered that decision makers must more actively address the link between land use change and water quality, and overcome the inconsistencies and ineffectiveness that currently exist in wetland and water-related policy and legislative mechanisms, in order to halt wetland loss and degradation. This may be achieved through improved resourcing and the development of more effective legislative and regulatory frameworks, to be implemented consistently throughout all regions. Such frameworks are needed to support sustainable, integrated and innovative action at landscape-scale to protect, manage and restore wetlands and water bodies. These are not NZ-specific issues, and cross-sectoral, integrated responses to wetland degradation are urgently required worldwide; such efforts should be adopted along the lines of the wise use principles and technical guidelines adopted by the Parties to the Convention on Wetlands.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Finlayson, Max, Principal Supervisor
  • Black, Rosemary, Principal Supervisor
Award date31 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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