I thread my way carefully by torchlight down the paddock to the creek running through my farm. The breeze picks up as the running water imparts extra energy to the airflow. The torch beam highlights movement in the water – small fish dart or just fin languidly in mid-flow, unperturbed. These are galaxids (our native freshwater fish, which includes whitebait) and bullies. Pink eyes on stalks gleam back at me, reflecting the light. Freshwater koura (crayfish) and shrimps are there, too. A long dark shape glides sinuously past, unhurried, like an underwater tanker or flexible submarine – perhaps a short-finned eel or tuna.
I pick up a rock and watch as numerous spiky creatures scuttle away, or stay put, disguised as mini-rocks. Dark limpets stick to the underside of the rock, and as I touch them they spew fluorescent green slime – running in veins down my arm like something out of Dr Who.
There’s a lot going on in our freshwater, but increasingly it’s becoming smothered by silt, washed downstream from our paddocks and stream banks.
We will all have noticed that our electorate has been renamed Kaipara ki Mahurangi. The Kaipara has a massive freshwater catchment of 602,000ha, covering our electorate (apart from the eastern-most bays), and continuing all the way up to Hikurangi in Northland. It receives 2,000 tonnes of sediment per day via this catchment, which is seven times more than in pre-settlement times. Clearance of native bush and subsequent farming activities cause most of this ongoing soil loss. In our region, the Hoteo sub-catchment contributes most to sedimentation in the southern Kaipara.
Fortunately, we have been singled out as the first catchment in the country to receive remediation funding worth $300 million over 10 years. The objective is to significantly reduce sediment losses into the estuary by fencing off and replanting farm streams and wetlands. Under the post-Covid Jobs for Nature package, the remediation programme will support 300 rural jobs, both directly and indirectly, as well as providing farmers and landowners with much-needed advice and support for drawing up and implementing farm plans for freshwater and soil management.
This will help rural employment and the local economy both short term and long term by improving the longevity and sustainability of our farming practice. It will also mean we can continue to benefit from the bounty of our freshwater environments, as well as retain and improve our snapper nursery in the Kaipara, which is the most important on the west coast of the North Island. By enthusiastic uptake of these co-funded measures, we’ll be able to continue to meet these strange Dr Who style creatures in our farm streams, as well as restore some of the commercially and recreationally important shellfish in the Kaipara Moana itself.