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Life's a beach!

A good thing came from a bad thing at Port Waikato beach.


Image - Karen Opie, Port Waikato BeachcareIn 2013, we had a big fire in the dunes. Some guys were hooning around in a car and it bellied out and caught fire in the grass. That cleared about 20 hectares of pampas. We all got together and decided it would be a good opportunity to do some restoration planting.

We started by collecting three 9 cubic metre skips of rubbish, including car bodies and fridges. Where the fire was, we are planting coastal forest species, what would have been there before humans arrived.

It’s really about creating little hubs of coastal forest species so we can get that natural regeneration happening, get the birds back. We’ve put in a load of plants, I’ve lost count. We’re not doing any foredune planting at the moment because of the erosion. A car park and many metres of dunes have been lost since about 2008. We’re waiting for the sea to start pushing the sand back up on to the beach again so the dunes can begin to recover.

We usually do three to four planting bees a year. Kids come to all the planting bees. We have a schools’ planting bee and about 60 to 70 students come along, so that’s always a really fun day.


Image - Port Waikato Beachcare GroupI run the beachcare with a committee, there are five of us. We’ve only been running as a committee for 20 months. Before that I was kinda just doing everything. We have an email list of probably about 60 people that help out.

I started in 2011, looking after the dotterel at the end of the beach. I was photographing some Caspian terns on the spit and I saw a small brown bird. I sent a photo to DOC and they confirmed it was a New Zealand dotterel. Then I found a nest.

We also have banded dotterel. Banded dotterel are smaller and not as rare but they are declining quickly. We’re doing a small study on them because not much is known about the North Island banded dotterel.

We fence the nesting sites off and have signage but, you know, I have no legal right over the beach or dunes so all I can do is ask people to stay away and take care. We have two sites at Port Waikato that we look after and three more sites down the coast. Two of those sites, the local farmers and kids look after the traps. And the other, the Waikaretu Sea Scouts do the trapping. The kids are really excited to see dotterel chicks or catch a predator. The past three years we’ve been catching a lot of weasels.


Image - Port Waikato Beachcare GroupThis summer, we have a DOC ranger starting, working through to February. The Sir Peter Blake Trust is sponsoring two DOC ambassadors to work with the ranger. Because we have so many visitors here we don’t have a good success rate with the chicks that hatch. They are very vulnerable. Most years we would get four chicks away across the sites. Last year we had a bad year. King tides and a lot of erosion on the beach wiped out the nests.

We get people driving on the beach and dunes here. It makes the bird side of things quite difficult, especially with the banded dotterel area which is central in the dunes. We can fence in the nests but that doesn’t protect the chicks. The chicks will move out of the fenced area to feed and can’t fly out of harm’s way.

The regional council is really good, really supportive, with our planting and work. And we help the council with trials of fertiliser of koi carp. The other thing we are about to start is Predator Free Port Waikato. We have just got a load of traps from DOC. It will be really interesting to see what that does for the bird life and other changes.

The whole beachcare thing has just grown. I never would have imagined that it would be as big as it is now.

I constantly have to remind myself that the restoration process is a long, slow road and, yes, there are going to be hiccups, but you have to keep trucking along. It’s also really hard because one of the things I am really conscious of is if something happened to me, if I got run over by a bus, would it carry on? But, no, you can’t do everything yourself. We are all responsible, we all have an impact. It depends on whether you want to have a positive or negative impact.