What is a freshwater habitat?

New Zealand's freshwater ecosystems are many and varied, ranging from glaciers and seepages in the mountains, down to lowland rivers and streams that flow into estuaries.

They include lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, cave systems, geothermal areas and underground aquifers. They contribute to biodiversity, the economy, recreational opportunities, cultural significance and our well-being.

The importance of freshwater habitats

Freshwater habitats are used by a wide variety of native plants and animals, some of which are unique to New Zealand and often highly specialised to the habitats they are found in.

Tangata whenua have strong links to water. Their awa is an important part of their whakapapa and freshwaters sustain taniwha, protect waahi tapu and provide valuable resources such as mahinga kai.

Threats to freshwater habitats

Our freshwater ecosystems are subject to hydrological modification and drainage, pollution and sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, deforestation, abstraction, and invasion by pests. These impacts have had significant consequences for our freshwater biodiversity which is vulnerable to invasion, interbreeding, overharvest and habitat loss and degradation.


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Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.