9 Jun 2014

Row over mangrove 'vandalism'

9:02 am on 9 June 2014

Ruakaka residents will be allowed back into a Whangarei wildlife sanctuary next week to clear mangroves, despite having already flouted their resource consent on the first attempt.

Local conservationists were up in arms when a ratepayer group chopped down mangroves last month, in a part of the estuary they weren't supposed to touch.

The Ruakaka estuary.

The Ruakaka estuary. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Forest and Bird members at Ruakaka are angry with the council for giving the ratepayers association a resource consent to chop and pull mangroves from the estuary for up to 20 years.

Forest and Bird member Margaret Hicks said the working bee that first attacked the mangroves last month destroyed trees in areas it had no right to touch, and the consent should be revoked.

The 80-year-old said the clearance disturbed birds in the sanctuary, which was against the law, and destroyed the habitat of rare species like the banded rail, which used to live in wetlands and now hide out in mangrove forest. She is accusing the group of being environmental vandals.

The council says the Ruakaka residents have a resource consent to clear mangroves, and though they've breached the conditions, the council has no power to revoke it. However it had served the ratepayers with an abatement notice and would monitor their efforts closely when they next cleared mangroves.

The Ratepayers' president Peter Hope said they are not vandals, and want only to check the invasion of the mangroves and restore the sandy river beaches locals remember from 50 years ago.

However NIWA scientists who have been studying the longer-term results of mangrove clearance, say very few areas have reverted to sand.

Dr Carolyn Lundquist, who is leading the study, said the researchers would report their findings to the Auckland Council in the near future.

Whangarei's environmental river patrol man, Millan Ruka, said mangroves were flourishing in places like Ruakaka because the regional council was doing nothing to control pollution.

Mr Ruka said on a recent paddle up the Ruakaka River he found unfenced beef cattle eroding the banks and fouling the stream - creating ideal conditions for the mangroves downstream. He said effluent draining from dairy farms was also contributing to the pollution and the water was rank.

Northland Regional Council says the Ruakaka River is not a high priority for erosion control.