It is my privilege to welcome you to INTECOL Wetlands Conference and to acknowledge the International Association of Ecology, New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society, Australian Freshwater Sciences Society, New Zealand National Wetland Trust, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.
I was hoping that I would be able to welcome you to Ōtautahi Christchurch in person.
It would have been amazing to have this conference be the one to launch Te Pae our city’s new convention centre.
We thought that the extraordinary effort put in by our team of five million would have seen us be in a unique position to at least welcome our Australian friends from across the Tasman.
But it was not to be.
So let me describe that we would have been welcoming you to a venue by the spring-fed Ōtākaro/Avon River, which along with the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River meanders through the city and flows into Ihutai the Avon Heathcote Estuary. And to the south is Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and to the north, the Styx River and Brooklands lagoon. These all together form an integrally connected network of wetlands of international significance.
I was immensely proud when Ihutai joined an exclusive list of wetlands making up the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) network in October 2018.
Ihutai has a vital role in supporting migratory waders and shorebirds and offers a safe haven for bar-tailed godwits, lesser knots/huahou, and other shorebirds such as the endemic South Island pied oystercatcher/ torea.
Over the last few weeks around 1000 godwits/kuaka have arrived back in the estuary after their annual non-stop 11,000-kilometre flight from Alaska.
With the estuary at our city’s front door and birds easily visible feeding and roosting at a range of sites, it’s easy for residents and visitors to enjoy and understand the estuary’s international significance.
The question kua kite te kohanga kuaka (who has seen the nest of the kuaka), tells us this has been part of the ebb and flow of our natural world for centuries.
The rivers and estuary are especially significant to Ngāi Tahu, the local iwi/Māori tribe.
The dramatic changes that have affected and still affect wetlands have strongly impacted their customary relationship with ‘wetlands’ and as places for mahinga kai.
Mātauranga Māori relates to that historic and present-day traditional knowledge, the systems of knowledge transfer and storage, and the local goals and aspirations from an indigenous perspective.
The theme for this 11th IWC has drawn on this and asks you to focus on traditional knowledge and innovative science in wetland research and management. The organisers wanted to create a programme that would enable the sharing of stories from the five continents and island countries around wetland traditional knowledge and uses.
This is intended to help the integration of traditional knowledge in western science and highlight further the importance of the world wetlands for local populations.
At the same time, and why it is so disappointing that you can’t be here, we in Christchurch have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to recreate an environment that draws on that integration.
The Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor was created out of what was called the Residential Red Zone – where thousands of houses were bought out by the government after the earthquakes. It is four times the size of Hagley Park and stretches from the central city to the sea.
We have been discussing a co-governance model: Tōpuni: Ōtākaro Avon River Sanctuary. The word Tōpuni derives from the traditional Ngāi Tahu tikanga (custom) of persons of rangatira (chiefly) status extending their mana and protection over a person or area by placing their cloak over them or it.
It has occurred to me that instead of starting from the position of the legal and governance structures that I am used to, we can start by looking to Te Ao Maori. Tōpuni status would confirm the overlay of Ngāi Tahu values on this Sanctuary encompassing the land, the wetlands and the river.
Christchurch City is at the forefront of wetland management and has taken the challenge to restore wetlands, not just for wildlife to thrive, but for flood water storage, while also creating new recreational opportunities for people’s well-being.
Wetlands are important ecosystems that help people reconnect with Nature.
There is great community work happening in the City as illustrated by the recently formed Waterways Community Partnership.
As a city, our six values approach – ecology, landscape, recreation, cultural, heritage and drainage - means our modified and natural waterways and wetlands are so integrated into our urban form, that our residents often don’t see them as anything other than public open space.
An example are the new wetlands which are taking shape in the upper catchment of the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River as work continues on reducing the flood risk in the area.
The wetlands will also act as a natural filter for stormwater before it flows into the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River, which is home to koura (freshwater crayfish), kākahi (freshwater mussels) and īnanga (whitebait).
They will be planted with thousands of locally sourced native grasses, shrubs and trees to increase the city’s biodiversity and to create new habitats for native birds, fish and animals.
The planting itself brings communities together, and there is something special about watching the fruits of our labour grow over the years.
Although they have a water storage role in stormy times, it is the walking paths and green spaces that people will be able to enjoy the rest of the time.
As I am entering my last year as Mayor of our wonderful city, it will be a future Mayor who will welcome you here when our borders open.
But regardless of who that is, the values will endure, and you will see a city that has integrated its wetlands into the urban form in a way that offers protection and amenity to the people and supports the biodiversity of our environment.
And I know this as it is an inter-generational responsibility.
I read a description of Kaitiakitanga once that has always remained with me - it is more than stewardship, guardianship, preservation and protection and yet it is all of them. It recognises the relationship between everything and everybody in the natural world – with no distinction between people and their environment.
It is completely independent of ‘ownership’ in a European sense. It is seamless and all encompassing – making no distinction between moana and whenua - the sea and the land. It ensures any use is sustainable, because it is an intergenerational responsibility - past, present and future - a duty of care owed as much to our ancestors as to our children's grandchildren.
This continuum centres us now at this time with a sense of the urgency with which we must chart the course for the future.
Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us and our children after us.