Wetlands were not
highly thought of by our forefathers. They were called Swamps,
Mires, Quagmires, Bogs and associated with words like dank, dark,
slimy, decay and treacherous. It was even dangerous to live near
them and the word "Malaria" originally meant "Bad
Air" thought to emanate from swamps at night. Millions of
people died from malaria. Millions of people still do each year.
Wetlands were breeding places for mosquitoes, and other bugs and
nasties, impossible to travel through, and useless in every way.
Farmers, with government subsidies, drained and filled more than
90 percent of New Zealand's wetlands between 1840 and 1940, turning
these "undesirable places" into fertile pasture.
Today, we call water covered shallow lands "wetlands" and "estuaries." We have learned they are a vital link in the water cycle, as important to the smooth functioning of our natural world as our kidneys are to our own bodies. Most specialists in New Zealand wetlands say the major task facing us now is not preserving the fragments of our remaining wetlands - that has been set in place. What we need to do is start from scratch and rebuild wetlands in critical places to assure the long-term survival of our rivers and coastal environments.