Birdwatchers have long looked upon the Manawatu Estuary as a special place, but its importance is now likely to gain international attention as local efforts have established 200 hectares of the river and adjoining wetlands at Foxton as a Ramsar Convention site.
The 1971 Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, is an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Over 1200 sites totalling 108 million hectares worldwide are now listed as Wetlands of International Importance.
The estuary is the largest in the lower North Island. In the spring migratory birds arrive from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Siberia to spend the summer there. These include the bar-tailed godwit, red knot, Pacific golden plover as well as other rarer visitors such as Japanese snipe, wandering tattler, Asiatic whimbrel and various sandpipers. Manawatu is also the winter home of an estimated one per cent of the countryís total population of 4200 wrybills, and critically threatened visitors include the fairy tern and shore plover. Flocks of shoveller and grey teal seek refuge here over the shooting season, and royal spoonbills are now year round residents. There are also extensive salt marsh areas which are relatively inaccessible, giving a safe home to the rare fernbird, bittern and marsh crakes. In all, 93 species have been spotted there.
Foxton township was once an important deep river port serving the Manawatu regionís flax industry. New Zealandís native flax is known as harakeke. In the late 1800s, there were 50 flax mills operating within a 16 kilometre radius of Foxton.