Saturday, 17 November 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

People encouraged to come along to harbour and catchment management plan drop-in sessions

For Waikato Regional Council integrated catchment management officer, Emily O’Donnell, the development of a harbour and catchment plan for the Whitianga/Mercury Bay area is more than just a job.

“I am a resident of the Whitianga catchment, so this plan is personal for me,” says the mum of one, who previously helped to bring four other harbour and catchment plans to fruition.

Emily returned to work from maternity leave this year and is leading the development of harbour and catchment plans for the Waikato region. WRC is now starting information gathering for plans for Whitianga/Mercury Bay and then Coromandel/Manaia.

“At the moment we are focusing on an area I call home and, being a mum now, I’m even more aware about what kind of a world I want my daughter to grow up in,” says Emily. “I grew up swimming in streams and rivers, loving nature, fishing and gathering seafood. I want all of our children and their children to do the same too.”

Harbour and catchment management plans are a way for people to share what they want their natural environment to be like in the next 10 to 50 years.

Emily says environmental changes and expectations are raising people’s awareness of the need for careful management of our natural resources into the future, along with the need to meet economic, cultural and social outcomes. “Enhancing our coastal and freshwater environments is a priority for WRC and this is driven by the community’s desire for high water quality and improved biodiversity,” she says. “We’re responding to that.”

WRC will be holding workshops with landowners and drop-in sessions for residents and visitors to share information on the Whitianga/Mercury Bay plan. Emily says she encourages people to come along so they can discuss their vision, aspirations and concerns for the catchment, as these will be captured in the plan and help guide the way forward. “I get it can be a bit daunting for people to work with [WRC], but our team is really approachable and harbour and catchment management plans are about what the wider community wants for their patch,” she says.

“Our team live here too and are really passionate about sharing their knowledge and doing right by this catchment and the environment.”

The plan will be used to focus and direct WRC’s work programme.

“The bulk of the work focuses on private land so we need a high level of buy-in, but we also partner with the Department of Conservation, Thames-Coromandel District Council and iwi to work on things like wetlands,” says Emily.

WRC provides grants to landowners for a variety of purposes, including the fencing of streams and wetlands and the planting of trees for erosion protection.

“We contribute 35 per cent of the total cost and for some works more,” says Emily. “The landowner’s contribution can be in kind, so they may do the work to put up fencing and our share pays for the materials. We work with the landowners to find out what will fit in with the way they work. It’s not about us dictating what they should do.

“We also hold comprehensive consents for river management that people can operate under.”

Emily says the harbour and catchment plan made for Wharekawa (between Tairua and Whangamata) was a good example of what can be achieved. “[The community] set up a care group and they are still going strong after 12 years,” she says. “They’ve done a heap of work in river management working with our team. The Wharekawa River is now navigable where once you couldn’t even get a kayak up there. Land owners worked with us to remove willow and undertake native plantings and they’re now constructing a wetland and doing a whole heap of work to reduce sedimentation.”

Pictured is Waikato Regional Council integrated catchment management officer, Emily O’Donnell.

WRC will be holding two drop-in sessions for Mercury Bay residents on Saturday 3 November - in the Whitianga Town Hall from 10:00am to 12 noon and in the Cooks Beach Hall from 2:30pm to 4:30pm, on Saturday. These sessions are not formal meetings, rather a chance for you to drop in and talk to WRC staff, share your knowledge and let them know what you love about your environment, what concerns you and what you think the priorities are. If you can’t make it to one of the drop-in sessions, please share your ideas by completing a survey/feedback form online at waikatoregion.govt.nz/whitianga-hcmp.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.