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Tuesday
Nov012011

Hauraki Gulf

Thames and Thames Coast residents may be forgiven for feeling confused regarding the state of our beloved Hauraki Gulf, and its immediate future. Ecologists, farmers, and council experts have argued for years about the alleged deterioration in the condition of the water, the shore and sea-floor. Accurate information is hard to come by. The Hauraki Gulf Forum puts out soothing reports at intervals that reflect their conflicting priorities of development and conservation. We the public, are expected to draw conclusions, and either rest easy or despair, depending on our particular beliefs.

It was extremely disappointing to read of these opposing points of view, and the totally inadequate research that appears to support each, in the Forest and Bird August magazine. This was exemplified by the statement attributed to Kaiaua marine biologist, Bill Brownell that “gaps in the knowledge about the impact of the high nutrient load and sedimentation on (seafloor) life means that the supply of vital food organisms necessary to sustain the waders (principally pied oyster-catchers and godwits) could decrease with no warning”. The unknown relates to the ‘tipping point’ for blue-green algae, which would suffocate virtually every living organism, with consequences through the fish food-chain .

Environment Waikato scientist Bill Vant on the other hand claims that there has been a negligible increase in nutrients in the river, and that it poses no apparent risk in the near future of algae bloom. He claims that any increase in farm run-off has been offset by decreases through improvements in industrial discharge from milk processing, and town sewerage. But all are agreed that there is far too little research available to back up their diametrically opposed assertions. What is clear is that mangroves are expanding into areas previously used by wading birds with a consequent reduction in some bird species including wry-bill, godwit and red-knot. The reduction, according to Keith Woodley of the Miranda Wildlife Trust is gradual, but perceptible.

Like night follows day, increases in land prices, borrowing, stocking rates, supplementary feeding, and runoff lie at the heart of the problem. Farmer groups can apply all the spin in the world, but it does not alter this fact. It seems to boil down to a simple choice – we can either have increased production from the same land, or uninhibited life in the Gulf – not both. 

Into this cauldron of perception comes the now apparently inevitable prospect of finfish farming, albeit initially on a fairly limited scale, but set to expand exponentially. The Government’s parliamentary enquiry into finfish farming heard cautionary tales, but it appears determined to push ahead, encouraged by local boosters, both within our Councils, and the fishing industry.

The meeting of polluted water flowing South into the Gulf resulting from fish-farm food putrefaction, with dairy nutrient rich water flowing North, will undoubtedly have an effect that is as yet unpredictable. The lack of research, alluded to again and again in the Forest and Bird article, should give rise to real concern amongst those most affected – those who live here.     

Blind commitment to economic development, particularly involving mono-culture, has consequences – witness the current Psa debacle within the Kiwifruit industry. It is to be hoped that in a few years’ time, we do not have to have an Auditor General enquiry into how this commitment was provided to finfish farming, on such an inadequate factual base. It is undoubtedly a national characteristic that we tend to learn the hard way. 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (1)

The Thames-Hauraki Forest and Bird Branch committee sent a letter to every elected member of TCDC and WRC asking that the clear-felling of pine forests on steep Coromandel hills be curtailed over time as it is the main reason for the exponential spread of mangroves in our harbours and estuaries through sedimentation. (33) After three months They have yet to receive the courtesy of a single reply addressing the problem. Why do we elect them?

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H. Wood

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