Our freshwater habitats range from glaciers in the mountains, to lowland rivers and streams that flow into estuaries.

What is freshwater?

Freshwater refers to water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, underground streams, and other sources. Water is continually evaporated from the oceans and then returned to the land as ice, snow, or rain. Ice and snow melt from mountains to release freshwater to our rivers, streams, lakes, and to resupply underground streams.

New Zealand's freshwater habitats range from glaciers and seepages in the mountains, down to lowland rivers and streams that flow into estuaries. They include lakes, rivers, streams, some wetlands, cave systems, geothermal areas and underground aquifers.

Importance of freshwater habitats

Freshwater ecosystems contribute to biodiversity, the economy, recreational opportunities, cultural significance and our well-being.

Freshwater is used by a wide variety of native plants and animals. Some of these 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 (river) is an important part of their whakapapa (geneaology) and freshwaters sustain taniwha, protect waahi tapu (sacred areas) and provide valuable resources such as mahinga kai (harvesting).


Our freshwater ecosystems are impacted by changes in the water cycle, drainage, pollution and sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, deforestation 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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