Sunday, 16 December 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Tree vandalism on Taputapuatea spit condemned

By Jordan Gower

The recent destruction of eight pohutukawa trees on the Taputapuatea Spit in Whitianga was a hot topic of discussion at the Mercury Bay Community Board meeting on Wednesday last week.

The spit was already on the agenda as the Mercury Bay Branch of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society made a request to Thames-Coromandel District Council to fund and plant three older pohutukawa in the place of some trees that were vandalised on the spit during earlier, separate incidents. 

Three Mercury Bay Forest & Bird committee members attended the meeting. The meeting was coincidentally also attended by two Whitianga residents who are living close to the spit and who are concerned about the self-seeding and uncontrolled growth of karo trees on the spit.

The Taputapuatea Spit is a 4ha piece of dune land between Buffalo Beach and Buffalo Beach Road, stretching from the Taputapuatea Stream (Mother Brown’s Creek) in the south, to the clubhouse of the Mercury Bay Boating Club in the north. A wetland forms part of the spit. It’s an area of cultural significance for Ngati Hei and is named after Kupe’s home marae on the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia. The spit is a TCDC reserve and is a popular walking spot. The area is, at various times of the year, home to a number of coastal birds, including the New Zealand dotterel. 

In 2015, Mercury Bay Forest & Bird - in partnership with Ngati Hei, TCDC and Waikato Regional Council - embarked on a 10-year plan to restore the spit to the state it was likely in before the arrival of humans in New Zealand. The plan followed on from a trial in the 1990s that saw the establishment of a small coastal forest, mostly made up of pohutukawa trees, on the northern part of the spit. The aim of the trial was to see if dredging material from the Whitianga Marina could be used to cover the spit in native vegetation. 

The outcome of the 10-year restoration plan was from the outset expected to be limited by some external factors. “[An] aspiration by neighbouring landowners not to have their view completely filled with trees,” is specifically mentioned in the plan. 

To accommodate the possible concerns of the Whitianga residents living in the vicinity of the spit, the plan is focused on restoring the area south of the small coastal forest with low-growing native groundcovers, including muehlenbeckia, knobby rush and spinifex.

Since commencement of the restoration plan, Mercury Bay Forest & Bird have worked closely with TCDC and Ngati Hei to manage the pohutukawa on the spit. “Several Kermadec pohutukawa and pohutukawa that hampered TCDC’s attempts to reshape the dunes between the spit and Buffalo Beach have been removed,” says Meg Graeme, one of the Mercury Bay Forest & Bird members who attended the community board meeting on Wednesday. “Several of the older pohutukawa have been crown lifted [the removal of lower branches to a set height] at ratepayers’ expense to ensure neighbouring residents maintain their view of the ocean.” 

The plan suffered a major setback in the winter of 2016 when the first year’s groundcover plantings were accidentally mowed down. 

All the members of the Mercury Bay Community Board condemned on Wednesday the recent tree vandalism on the spit and unanimously agreed to Forest & Bird’s request for three replacement pohutukawa to be planted, as well three large signs to be erected next to the replacement trees. The signs will all state that the pohutukawa were planted in the place of trees that were deliberately vandalised. The community board has also indicated that they will consider replacement of the eight trees that were recently destroyed, also with signs to be erected next to the trees. In addition, the community board requested TCDC staff to investigate the feasibility of surveillance cameras in the area of the spit and to clearly communicate to the wider public that future tree vandalism anywhere in the Mercury Bay area will not be tolerated and that perpetrators will be prosecuted. 

In 2002, a Whangamata resident was successfully prosecuted for illegally removing a group of native trees on a reserve in front of his property and was fined $70,000.

Directly addressing the Whitianga residents who were concerned about the uncontrolled growth of karo on the spit, community board member and TCDC councilor, Murray McLean, said during the meeting on Wednesday, without specifically laying blame at the feet of anyone, that the recent destruction of the eight pohutukawa is strengthening his resolve against the residents living close to the spit. 

After the community board meeting, Meg caught up with the concerned residents and mentioned to them that some of the karo they are worried about is growing in the wetland area of the spit and unlikely to grow any bigger. “It’s all about communication,” says Meg. “We want all interested parties to know what we’re doing on the Taputapuatea Spit and that we’re happy to discuss any concerns they may have with them. That’s the best way to prevent any further issues.”

There’s great support in the wider community for the 10-year restoration plan on the spit. “The mowing down of our first year’s work was unfortunate and certainly set us back, but since then we’ve made good progress.” says Meg. “At our most recent planting day at the end of August, we’ve had many community volunteers turning up to help and all the plants we’ve planted were grown by Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre in Whitianga. Their support is very much appreciated.

“A wonderful little eco-system has already been established on the spit, including skinks and butterflies, and we have no doubt that the restoration project will enhance that in time to come.”

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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.