Estuary restoration plan launched

A plan designed to restore the degraded environment of Orewa Estuary, in collaboration with the community, was launched last week.

Its author, senior ecologist Tony Payne of 4Sight Consulting, describes the plan as “unique in Auckland” and “a giant first step” in improving the water quality and foreshore of the estuary.

The Orewa Estuary Restoration Plan was funded by the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board at a cost of $25,000. Chair Julia Parfitt says the study was commissioned because the local board is concerned that the Orewa Estuary ecosystem has not received the focus it deserves. She says the plan will unlock potential funding to make restoration projects happen.

It received a generally positive response at the launch at Estuary Arts Centre on September 27 from assembled groups that included Hibiscus Coast Forest & Bird and residents who live by the estuary. However, there were also strong reservations that it would not deal with some of the biggest concerns – the increase in sediment coming from development around the estuary and the associated spread of mangroves.

One person called it “a band aid” and another said that the report “has seriously missed the point”.
Mr Payne said that the plan empowers the community to take action and enables everyone to be involved, including schools, alongside Council’s biodiversity and parks teams.

It aims to coordinate, inform and resource efforts that are already underway by locals such as Hibiscus Coast Forest & Bird, the Mangrove Management Group and residents associations.

The estuary includes endangered mature broadleaved forest by Arran Drive Bridge, a unique remnant stand of cabbage trees by Kath Hopper Drive and the broadleaved forest/scrub lining the West Hoe stream outlet. It provides habitat for 39 native bird species and two native skinks.

However, Mr Payne said that ongoing pressure from urbanisation has resulted in the introduction of numerous weeds and predators and decreased the water quality, resulting in an overall decline in the health of the estuary.

Feedback from the community that informed the report was that people wanted to see more native planting and fauna habitats, better water quality and a reduction in the spread of mangroves.

The plan aims to achieve a full riparian buffer around the estuary through native planting and control of weeds, possums, mustelids and rats. Pest control will increase birdlife. Mangrove and sediment monitoring are key aspects of the plan.

Residents such as Kevin Sutton, who works with an informal group pulling out mangroves in the estuary, says although the plan is a positive start, it does not go nearly far enough.

He says that the mud is already “so thick, it’s scary” and something needs to be done.

Orewa resident Kerry Howe also observes the estuary closely. He said the Restoration Plan has “missed the point” in the face of massive runoff from Arran Point and Millwater which he has seen raising the level of the estuary. Sedimentation also provides the perfect conditions for mangroves to thrive, and Mr Howe said in places there would be a mangrove forest, if people were not removing seedlings by hand.

“The plan is great, but it’s a band aid,” another resident said. “There won’t be much estuary left for the birds to enjoy if developers carry on as they are.”

Residents described seeing sediment flowing off the land under development in Millwater and Arran Hills, turning the water brown after heavy rain. They said it had been made far worse recently by Council permitting earthworks to continue through the winter.

Mr Payne said that he does not dispute that excess sediment is going into the estuary and understands residents’ frustration but that the plan is a huge start.

“This will create greater awareness of the problems that the estuary faces,” he said. “So even if it feels like it’s come too late, it provides the means to address these issues.”

He said that excavating sediment is expensive and creates far greater adverse effects. He suggested that residents measure and record evidence for Council when sediment comes down from development sites, adding that developers have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment and to abide by the Erosion and Sediment Control Plan that is in their resource consent conditions and monitored by Council.

This was met with laughter and scepticism by several residents, who said they have been providing Council with evidence of runoff for some time and seen no action. Council’s resource consents compliance manager, Steve Pearce, says people have contacted Council about the problem. He says that the developments in question are inspected regularly to ensure that erosion and sediment control devices are operating effectively. “It is impossible to retain all sediment from discharging from construction sites,” he says. “The devices are designed to limit the discharge and sites are expected to adapt their devices to suit the dynamics of the site and weather.

He says winter work was approved at Arran Point on the provision that the exposed area of land being worked was greatly reduced. He blames exceptional rain this winter with making sediment discharge worse.

Residents at the launch called for a public meeting with Council’s compliance staff and Mr Pearce says he would be happy to consider that request to discuss the matter further “in the appropriate forum”.


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