Communities all over New Zealand are working together to reverse the declining state of our waterways.
That’s the good news – people care about our beaches, rivers and streams. And many of them care so much that they’re getting stuck in and doing something that will make a difference. But, the state of decline hasn’t been reversed when it comes to our rivers – not yet. It appears that one of the problems is the fragmented approach to what’s being done.
So, some more good news is Gareth Morgan’s announcement in his blog this week, that the Morgan Foundation is getting behind a new campaign to coordinate data and community action to help us in our efforts to clean up our waterways. The Cleaner Rivers Campaign aims to help New Zealanders help their rivers, by providing the means to standardise community monitoring in a common database that is freely accessible to all. The Foundation intends to supply monitoring kits and information in the hope that this encourages community groups towards standardised testing of their waterways. There is also an idea to have annual awards that celebrate New Zealand’s fresh water. Data supplied by community groups (and official data too) will be used to take a stock-take of New Zealand fresh water, identifying rivers and streams that are improving over time and those that are getting worse.
It’s good to hear of yet another promising development for freshwater in New Zealand.
There are so many communities getting stuck into environmental projects and getting great results – here are a couple of examples near where I live:
Pauatahanui Inlet – Human settlement for 600 years has had its effect on Porirua Harbour and its adjacent tidal inlet. Denuding the surrounding hills for farming and subdivision in more recent times, has had a marked impact. Formed in 1991, the Guardians of the Pauatahanui Inlet (GOPI) act in the interests of the inlet. They organise regular community beach clean-ups, water quality monitoring, and they conduct the now world-famous (in Porirua) triennial cockle count, generally raising awareness about the need for a healthier harbour ecosystem. And it’s working – certain species, like the cockles (GOPI 2010), are doing remarkably well. This may be as much due to adaptive behaviour, as improved regulations and water quality. Time, and continued research, will tell. Monitoring shows the inlet to be in a largely healthier state now, than it was a decade ago, notwithstanding an ongoing concern with silt deposits from development and tidal movement. With Council impetus, the Guardians, local iwi and other interested groups have made a plan for addressing these kinds of concerns, releasing the Porirua Harbour and Catchment Plan in April 2012 (Porirua City Council 2012).
Waimapihi Stream Restoration – The restoration of the Waimapihi Stream (also known as the Secret Valley or Kōawa Ngaro) is another community effort that’s reaping rewards. This project also kicked off in the early nineties. Is it coincidence that community interest in these clean-up projects corresponds to the timing of New Zealand’s ground-breaking environmental legislation, the RMA (1991)? Back in 1992, the Waimapihi was known more as a gully than a stream. Its main purpose seemed to be as a dumping ground for garden and general rubbish, and an outfall for stormwater. With the help of Keep Pukerua Bay Beautiful, our City Council, the local school, and the wider community, decades worth of rubbish and weeds were cleared, and tracks and board-walks created. The school set up a nursery to grow native plants for the area, and these have thrived. Mature flaxes were transplanted from alongside the nearby State Highway, as it was undergoing widening.
The stream and the wider ecology has flourished under the care of the community. And the results came quickly, it seemed to us. Eels, banded and orange-back kokopu (whitebait), and koura (fresh water crayfish) returned in just a few years. A decade or so later, glowworms arrived. Twenty years on and the native trees and shrubs are spectacular, as is the birdlife. The school is still invested in the stream restoration, and have won numerous environmental awards for their efforts. The Secret Valley has turned from a rubbish dump into a destination. If you’re ever in Pukerua Bay, you should take a wander through. I was swimming at the beach near the outflow of the stream this week. The water is crystal clear and was teaming with baby fish. Just the result we all want really.