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Published: 2011-11-29 00:00:00

Independent resource consent hearing commissioners have agreed to the staged removal of approximately 22.5 hectares of mangroves at Whangamata Harbour by a combination of hand and mechanical removal methods, subject to a range of conditions. The approved area includes 6.5 hectares of mangrove remnants from previously cleared areas.

The decision announced today followed an application from Waikato Regional Council to remove a total of 38 hectares of mangroves, including 31.5 hectares of mangrove trees and the 6.5 hectares of mangrove remnants.

The application came after ongoing concerns from many local people including that the extensive mangroves at Whangamata are adversely affecting the health of the harbour, and that they interfere with recreation.

However, the commissioners – Greg Hill and David Roke – found that clearing 38 hectares would pose too many risks for some marine life living in and on the harbour bed as well as the nationally threatened banded rail bird which uses the mangroves as a habitat, and it would also impinge on the value placed in mangroves by the local iwi. The benefits of clearance – including improved amenity values, public access to the harbour and recreational opportunities – were not enough to outweigh adverse effects, they said.

Another factor in their decision was that the commissioners said they needed to take a precautionary approach as there may be unforeseen impacts on the environment. The commissioners decided that allowing the 22.5 hectares clearance in a staged programme would enable the potential risks to be managed.

The first stage of clearance is set to be eight hectares (including a large section by hand removal to tidy up the previously cleared area), followed by another stage of 10 hectares and a third of 4.5 hectares. It also allows for ongoing seedling removal by hand in many areas for the next 25 years.

During the first stage, the consents provide for trials of various types of mechanical clearance in two smaller areas to see if this is suitable for ongoing use in the next two stages.

The area consented for clearance does not include the Moanaanuanu estuary, which was a key area that residents were concerned about.

Under the consent conditions, the council will need to prepare an environmental monitoring plan and an operational plan, before the start of any removal. If the environmental effects of the staged clearance are found to be too negative the removal may need to either halt indefinitely or additional remediation may be required.

Council chief executive Bob Laing said: “The regional council will now assess the best way to go about implementing the consents we have gained. Any technical information we gather whilst implementing the consents will aid in the future management of mangroves at Whangamata and in other parts of the region.”