The Ashhurst wetlands have fallen victim to the opposite of liquefaction in the two weeks since the Wellington Anniversary Day earthquake.
The ponds that rarely dry out, not even after last summer's intense drought, are almost completely drained of water.
Ashhurst Domain caretaker Ken Pratt, who has tended the grounds for some 27 years, said he was quite sad to see the wetlands cracked and bare.
"It started about two days after the earthquake - I noticed the water level dropping." And now, there is just a small pond left at one end near the lookout, and a thin cover over the mud at the other.
Mr Pratt's theory is that the basin of clay supporting the wetlands was cracked when the earth moved, allowing the water to drain away.
There is no natural runoff or stream feeding the wetlands just above the Pohangina River, just a water table.
"It's a disaster for the fish, mainly mudfish and eels.
"The ducks will just move off when it gets completely dry." The area used to be a swamp, but was reshaped into ponds around an island in a partnership with Ducks Unlimited about 15 years ago.
The publicity material in the lookout from where most people get their view of the area boasts that it also supports raupo, sedges, hawks, swans, snails and bullies.
For now, Mr Pratt can do no more than watch and see what happens next time it rains. "We're hoping it will plug itself up again." Any other options, such as piping in water, would be too expensive to consider.
City council leisure assets officer Brian Way said all anyone could do was to monitor the situation and let nature take its course.
Ducks Unlimited Manawatu chapter president Neil Candy, one of the volunteers involved in transforming the swamp into wetlands, was shocked by the development and said the water loss was "unreal".
"It was a big job getting it established.
"It would be a first, so far as I know. I've never heard of wetlands just going away like that."
- Manawatu Standard
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