Lake Whatumā is an oval shaped shallow lake of some 160 hectares, with an additional adjacent wetland margin (76 hectares), which is in a degraded state. The catchment is prone to flooding and so its water levels are now managed artificially by a weir (www.hbrc.govt.nz). In summer, when lake levels are low, the lake suffers from algae blooms which severely affects the lake’s water quality and wildlife habitats. Nonetheless, the lake has high wildlife values and is home to the largest population of the globally endangered Australasian bittern in Hawke’s Bay.
Lake Whatumā is a significant waterway for Heretaunga Tamatea. The Lake was a significant mahinga kai, particularly for tuna, kōkopu, kākahi and native birds. However, due to continued drainage and surrounding land use, by the 1950s the lake had degraded as a food source. The Whatumā Recreation Reserve which comprises land to the west of the lake is now managed jointly by two trustees appointed from each of Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust and the Aorangi Māori Trust Board (legislation.govt.nz). The rest of the lake surround and most of the lake waters and lake bed are managed by private landowners (www.walkingaccess.govt.nz).
HBRC identify the lake as a priority wetland and it is a Recommended Area for Protection by DOC (www.hbrc.govt.nz).