Environment Waikato is seeking residents willing to help with projects such as managing bait stations for rat control, as the first part of a project to improve Whangamata Harbour.
The opportunities for restoring the harbour are signalled in the draft Whangamata Harbour plan which Environment Waikato has been developing over the past 12 months with input from 16 other organisations and community groups. The latest draft is now back from these groups with their final comments.
The plan identifies the issues affecting the health of the harbour and details strategies for protecting and enhancing the harbour over the long term while balancing the interests of multiple groups.
“The harbour plan considers the inter-related issues of sedimentation, water quality, biodiversity, public access and recreation in a holistic way,” says Environment Waikato Councillor Arthur Hinds.
“It looks at ways of restoring the habitat for birdlife and aquatic activity, and providing for people’s desire to use and enjoy the harbour.
“The vexed issue of mangrove management is wrapped up in all of this – and unfortunately that has overshadowed the actions we could be taking right now to start work on restoring the harbour - getting rid of rats, invasive creepers and pampas, for example.”
Environment Waikato Programme Manager for Coasts, Lands and Wetlands Peter Singleton said a first step of the work, which would be largely funded through Environment Waikato’s Peninsula and Biosecurity Projects, could start as early as December and would rely heavily on local involvement in managing bait stations for rat control.
“One thing everyone agrees on is there needs to be a harbour-wide plan, which addresses the underlying issues behind the spread of mangroves, such as the need to improve water quality and problems with sedimentation and run-off.
“Among the wider issues covered, the plan identifies areas where mangroves could be cleared and where they should be protected for ecological purposes. All the interested parties are now very close to agreeing on these areas. There have been significant compromises on both sides and it has taken time to achieve this consensus.
“People are passionate about the harbour and want reassurance that it will be looked after in a way that restores and protects it. Mangrove management is part of this. A consensus on the areas for mangrove management and the removal of mangrove seedlings to prevent their further spread are important parts of the plan.
“While the issue of mangrove management is decided through the proper legal processes, Environment Waikato is keen to encourage the community to get started on harbour restoration.
“Parts of the Whangamata estuary provide a unique and precious habitat for many endangered species, including the banded rail and fernbird, and these areas would benefit hugely from pest control,” he said.
Earlier this year Environment Waikato granted Whangamata community group, Harbourcare, consent to remove mangrove seedlings. This application is designed to "hold the line" on mangrove spread in the harbour. There were three appeals against this decision. Two of appeals have been resolved and the third is currently before the Environment Court.