REVIEW: Janet Hunt, Wetlands of New Zealand: A Bitter-Sweet Story. (Auckland: Random House, 2007), ISBN: 978-1-86941-904-2 (hbk).

Julian Kuzma

From coast to mountain tops, huge areas of New Zealand once were wetlands. Now only vestiges remain, fragmented and greatly reduced in extent and quality. In vividly descriptive language, Janet Hunt tells how the wetlands were formed, about their insect, plant and animal inhabitants, and their current state.

Wetlands of New Zealand is a comprehensive case-study examination of many of New Zealand’s wetlands. Chapter one identifies the surprisingly many types of wetlands. The second chapter is centred entirely on peat – despite its unassuming character, peat comprises a significant component of many wetlands and helps maintain global environmental balances. Coastal wetlands are the focus of the next two chapters, overviewing the many and varied sea-level wetlands and looking at the role they play in the lives of shore and wading birds, including globe-travelling migrant birds. Chapter five moves inland to examine the delicate ecology of high altitude wetlands. Chapter six follows Otago’s Taieri river 380 kilometres ‘from tops to tide’ as a case study of the river’s role in catchment, connector and feeder of wetland areas. Chapter seven identifies wetlands in extreme areas that may be surprising: geothermal and underground wetlands and the unique wetlands of the Antarctic. The final chapter focuses on people in wetlands, urban wetlands and wetland conservation.

Janet Hunt’s text is complemented by beautiful photographs of the wetlands and their inhabitants. Wetlands of New Zealand will engage environmental experts and those with no knowledge of wetlands alike – bringing these overlooked ecologies to attention and exposing them as places of fascination, beauty and environmental importance. The book is an important historic account, ecological study and celebration of these special landscapes. Wetlands of New Zealand is a deserving winner of the 2008 Montana medal for non-fiction and Environment category.