Author Archives: Paul on the Peninsula

About Paul on the Peninsula

I'm Paul Pope the Chairman of the Otago Peninsula Community Board. I was elected to the Board in 2013 and became chair in 2016. I bring a wealth of experience, common sense and a community focused perspective. I've created this blog to let people know my personal views and opinions on some of the issues that affect our community. Its also an opportunity for people to contact me, offer their advice or share a problem.

The Harbour Hang-Over

Recently I received a message from a Peninsula resident who had been cleaning up a section of the Otago Harbour of plastic and other rubbish. Now as a keen fisherman and diver I found their efforts impressive, but it was also depressing at the amount of plastic they removed from around the harbours edge. The prevalence of plastic in the harbour that is washed up onto the tidal bays is quite significant and has become a chief villain in the conservation of wildlife and sea fish stocks. More attention has been brought to plastic entering our waterways in recent years, but it’s not actually a new problem. As early as 1977, Gregory R. Murray from the University of Auckland found microplastics in almost all the coastal areas he surveyed.  

The White-capped Mollymawk or Shy Albatross is a regular to the Otago Coast and like most sea birds is vulnerable to ingesting plastic through surface feeding.

The problem with plastic waste when it enters the harbour ecosystem is that it fragments due to tide, waves and sunlight into microplastics that are often less than 1 mm in size. That small size enters the marine food chain in krill, crabs and shellfish and eventually makes its way into fish, birds, marine mammals and even humans. Sea birds are particularly vulnerable to eating plastic because they are largely surface feeders, diving down and scooping up pray along with plastic on the waters surface. This is particularly worrying for Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula whose populations of coastal sea birds include the Yellow-eyed Penguin, Blue Penguin, Red Billed Gull, Spotted Shag, White Fronted Tern, Southern Black Backed Gull, Sooty Shearwater, Fairy Prion, Black Shag and the iconic  Royal Albatross. In a published 2021 study of marine rubbish by Ella van Gool the Otago region had the highest mean density and the highest mean weight of marine rubbish (AMD anthropomorphic marine debris) in New Zealand. The Ministry for the Environment also published a report on the impact of plastic on marine ecosystems in the Otago Harbour. Takiharuru (Pilots Beach) on the Otago Peninsula recorded 15 items of rubbish for every 100sqm of beach, of which 23% were hard plastics and 23% were food wrappers. Its incredible to think that in the heart of one the most important biodiversity areas on the Otago Peninsula that we should see such results.

My children when they were younger after one of our clean ups. We can no longer rely on community good-will to deal with the pollution of our marine areas. Greater levels of local and national support is required through resourcing and planning.

We all must take collective responsibility for these results and must make real efforts to improve them. Local and national government including its agencies cannot continue to rely on the good will and feel good factor of community volunteers cleaning up our harbours and coastlines. The hard work of the local gentleman who contacted me recently on the Otago Peninsula should not be taken for granted. It needs more than just moral support, we actually need to have a plan to stop this issue growing any larger in Dunedin. The rising tide of waste and our ongoing consumption of plastic products needs to be seriously curtailed. Greater efforts in public rubbish collection, bin design & servicing along with stronger planning and statutory mechanisms need to be implemented to give the harbour and its biodiversity a chance. Given what we are seeing in the Otago Harbour a wider call from the community is needed to be more innovative and proactive in the control of waste entering its waters. 

Filter bags on storm-water outlets help collect plastic waste entering the ocean. This is just one initiative that could be used to protect biodiversity and the health of the Otago Harbour. With innovation we also need infrastructure, planning and support for our community at a local and national level.

Portobello has been a popular visitor area for 120 years

A Quiet Corner of the World

A Leopard Seal on a Peninsula Beach has come from Antarctica to enjoy the sun. International visitors of any kind have been rare on the Otago Peninsula since March 2020.

Its been noticeably quiet on the Otago Peninsula  with the latest Covid-19 related lockdown and our progression into level two.  As we move into spring and the days get longer the Peninsula begins awakening and preparing for summer. Both people and animals begin to shrug off the last vestiges of winter as the lawnmower gets dusted off and birds begin their frantic nest building in garages and trees around our community.

However, one thing that has not been awakened has been the visitor and tourism sector. Since our first lockdown in March 2020  and our second in August 2021 our local tourism industry has been under significant pressure. In 2019, New Zealand’s tourism industry generated $40.9 billion NZD in revenue (nearly 10% to New Zealand’s GDP) and creating nearly 400,000 jobs. This equates to 14.4% of all employment in New Zealand  working in a tourism related job (Stats NZ 2019). The Otago Peninsula’s reliance on international visitors is demonstrated by research that conservatively suggests that wildlife alone on the Otago Peninsula generates $100 million NZD annually and creates 800-1000 full-time equivalent jobs in the Dunedin area. With a record drop of 12.2% in GDP the contribution of tourism to the national economy has been keenly felt. The hours worked in the tourism industry has declined from 12%-59% across New Zealand.  This has been particularly high in Otago with a 32% decline in hours worked (Stats NZ 2020).

The 1980’s campaign to see more of New Zealand was developed to encourage domestic tourism. In the post Covid-19 climate domestic tourism would need to increase 72% to deal with the loss of international visitors.

After the eventual return to level one in 2020 there was a significant effort to encourage New Zealanders to travel and use local tourist services as domestic travellers. There was certainly some return on that campaign, but economically domestic tourism would need to increase by 72% to completely fill the void left by international tourism. (NZ Tourism, November 2020). Around 60% in tourism-related expenditure is either directly or indirectly generated by domestic tourism. Nationally, only in Auckland and Otago (including the Peninsula) does the international tourism expenditure outstrip domestic travellers. (ASB)

After the 2020 lockdown there was discussion about needing to “reset’ tourism in the wake of the closure of our borders. Certainly, its been a time to contemplate change, but just how much change remains debatable. Until we can open international borders safely and ensure that visitors and the local populace are vaccinated we remain very much in limbo. With the Australian response to the virus so varied and inconsistent it seems doubtful we’ll see one of our major markets open up to the industry for some time. I hope I’m wrong, because Covid-19 has been particularly tough on the visitor sector on the Otago Peninsula. Not too mention the prolonged Level 4 status of Auckland in 2021 which has not made the current conditions any easier. Finding solutions to this issue is not simple and finding the balance between opening up New Zealand’s borders and containing the spread of this deadly virus is a difficult one to navigate. Presently, all we can do is support those local businesses in our area by shopping local, supporting their events and recommending to all in sundry what they have to offer. Next time you meet someone who works in the tourism sector give them a smile and thank them for boxing on in very trying times.

 

The Year of the Mask

The Board continues to open the public water tap during lockdown as part of its service

It’s funny what you think about when you’re in a queue. It’s not as philosophical as Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot,’ rather it’s more of the brain meandering through the mundane. Crossing off  and dotting the mental t’s and i’s. Waiting outside the Portobello store on the Otago Peninsula during lockdown with people you’ve known for years is just part of the unworldly experiences Covid19 has brought to our community. Not for the first time our psychological masks have been replaced with real ones and our unguarded moments have become guarded ones.
The sense of openness that normally pervades our community has been closed off lately as we try to make sense of things beyond our familial bubble. Not that the humanity or good humour of people has disappeared from Peninsula, but is hard to remain positive under an itchy layer of fabric or thin disposable paper. Spare a thought too for those of us who for whatever reason seem to have unusually shaped heads. I have personally found finding a mask that actually fits across my face and over my ears extremely challenging. I have resorted to using a bandana which when entering the local store looks as though I’m going rob the place.

Mask selection can be difficult during lockdown, though a 17th century plaque mask should not be your first choice

Speaking of paper masks, when Lockdown’21 was first announced the last thing I was thinking about was how much toilet paper we had in the house. Its extraordinary that what we wipe our bum with is a major source of panic-buying and hoarding in New Zealand.  It says a lot about the New Zealand psyche that as long as we have toilet paper and alcohol we can survive anything! The panic-buying is the one thing that during lockdown reveals the worst in people. On the other hand having our store and pharmacy open says a lot about the services that we have here on the Otago Peninsula. Not too mention the men and women of the volunteer fire brigade, medical centre and our hardworking sole charge police officer. It’s those services and the people that run them that reminds you there are people in our community who care.  

Perhaps one of the other surprising things about Lockdown’21 has been seeing police checkpoints on the Portobello Road and in the main street of Portobello. The fact that we actually need to have a checkpoint is worrying, given that we are supposed to be in our own bubbles and undertaking recreation within our own neighbourhood. Over the last few weeks though the Otago Peninsula has had a significant number of visitors and the numbers from outside of the Peninsula community have been substantial. As a tourist and visitor destination we normally welcome visitors, but I’m afraid this time we have to be more cautious. Saying that though, a second lockdown is hard on our local businesses who rely on the visitor market for their revenue. The quicker we develop safe travel through vaccination and quarantine practices the better off those businesses will be. 

With today being the first day of Level 3 its hard not to have some sense of positivity that we are nearing the end of the Lockdown’21, but we must continue to be vigilant and cautious. I just hope there will be enough toilet paper to go around.

Where the Wild Things Are

Winter is not my favourite season, I take no joy in the cold and darkness and if I had my way I would hibernate through it like a bear. However, with the arrival of spring my disposition changes and I become energised and optimistic once again. Spring on the Otago Peninsula though has its trials, and is best described by Mark Twain who once wrote “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” The changeable nature of the season is simply part and parcel of life on the Otago Peninsula.

Puawhananga or (Clematis paniculata) – Otago Peninsula

The spring flowering of puawhananga (native clematis) marks the end of the winter and new beginnings for our wildlife here. The eastern inlets will see the arrival of the kuaka (Bar tailed godwit) from its migration from around the arctic circle in the northern hemisphere. Spring is a  busy time on the Otago Peninsula for our wildlife as they begin to give birth and create new generations of their species. Because its not the stork on the roof that beings the pitter patter of tiny feet or flippers to the Peninsula but our sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other native species. It’s also a busy time for many staff and volunteers who devote their time and energy to seeing these species survive and thrive on the Peninsula. To all of you, my thanks.

Dunedin is extremely fortunate as a city to have the wealth of nature at its doorstep. Our ability to interact with wildlife is unique on the national and international stage. It does bring with it responsibilities around behaviour, activities and the nature of our interactions. I’ve recently seen examples of some pretty poor behaviour at Tomahawk and Smaills beaches involving vehicles in both areas. Both examples puts wildlife at extreme risk, not to mention local people using these areas also. The key to wildlife survival is the way in which we as humans behave and act. They are very simple things like, keeping your dog on a lead, not driving on the beach, giving animals space, not lighting fires and actually reading the signs at sites about what you can and can’t do. We welcome visitors to the Otago Peninsula, but your visit comes conditional of respecting our wildlife and landscape. Let’s have a great spring and a safe summer.

Rāpoka – New Zealand Sea Lion pup – Otago Peninsula

 

Power to the Pupils

Participation in local government, particularly in elections should be looked upon as one of our great shames. With only 42% of eligible New Zealand voters bothering to cast a ballot in Council elections, we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that we may not approve of or support. Just why we are so apathetic when it comes to voting for the people who raise our rates, dog registrations and pool fees is as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. Our apathy in participating in local government processes is deeply concerning given the deep reach that Council’s have into out lives and our pockets. Recently, my 19 year old student daughter was home from her flat and the topic of the national elections came up. My wife and I were horrified when she said she wasn’t enrolled and probably wouldn’t bother to vote! What kind of monster had we raised, or had our real daughter been abducted by aliens? Understandably, there were harsh words in the Pope family, accusatory finger wagging and eventually a promise to get enrolled which she did. It’s not just young people who are apathetic about government and its processes, how often have I heard people say they won’t participate because “they won’t listen anyway.” My argument to that pearl, is that it may take a few attempts, but eventually you will prevail.

I raise our apathy about local government because the City Council is now working towards the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan and Council is beginning the process of asking what are our priorities. Similarly, Community Boards are working on those priorities in their Community Plans for presentation to Council on behalf of their communities. Its too easy for the community to allow the Board to act and speak for them, when actually Board’s need vocal people to support them. If we all don’t actively participate in this process we may miss out on seeing our community needs met or worse. With participation so important it was a great pleasure to have representatives of the three Peninsula schools at our recent Community Board meeting. Their presentations were intelligent and insightful, and they focused on a great range of topics that affect them in our Peninsula community. The Board was very impressed with their ideas and they have set a standard for the rest of the community.

(Written for The Star Community Voice, 1st October 2020) 

Taking a Breather

In early May all Community Board Chairs were asked by The Star, If you could have just one thing from your board area included in the 2020-21 Annual Plan, what would it be, and why?”  In the Board’s submission to the Dunedin City Council’s 2020 Annual Plan it was clear that we needed to adjust in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and level 3&4 lock-down. Job and business losses meant that there was likely to be hardship in the community and it needed to be softened. Couple that that with the likelihood of significant power price increases due to Aurora’s management and the community were going to be placed in a very difficult financial position. As Board Chair I wrote the following reply to The Star, saying that in lieu of a 6.5% rates increase and a 3% increase in fees and charges the community needed;

A financial breathing space from rates and fee increases to soften the effects of the Covid-19 virus for our families and businesses.” 

The Otago Peninsula is now in a significantly different world, where the pandemic has irrevocably changed the business, educational and social structures of our community. The collapse of the tourism industry is devastating for the Peninsula and the Dunedin economy. As families and businesses face uncertainty over employment and viability, many face difficult decisions and tough times. It’s the Boards view that our community needs at least a 12-month period to allow people to recover mentally, financially and physically from the effects of the pandemic. This means not adding to their financial pressures, but allowing people to steadily rebuild and gain confidence in their futures. It doesn’t stop the City Council from continuing with its planned activities around infrastructure construction and maintenance, but defers some things for 12 months while we all take a breath and plan ahead.

Waitangi Day at Otakou

When you live on the Otago Peninsula you are living in a rich cultural and historical landscape that extends over the many generations whose descendants are part of our community today. The Peninsula sits on a crossroads of historical people and events that defines not only our community but gives its name Otakou to the very region we live in. I’m always reminded of this at the Waitangi Day celebrations held recently at Otakou Marae. The celebrations held every three years at Otakou are an important reminder that the Treaty document was actually signed here in June, 1840 as it was taken around the country on the naval vessel H.M.S Herald for signing by other chiefs. The history of the Treaty in New Zealand has not always been a happy one and even today we still must face up to the realities of its requirements and acknowledge its place in the way we live together. Significantly, we should be reminded that it is a foundation of partnership and a pathway to lead us forward collectively and individually.

Bharatanatyam dancers from Natyaloka School of Indian Dance at Otakou Marae

One of the things I enjoy about Waitangi Day at Otakou is that I meet old acquaintances I don’t see very often, and I meet new people I have not met before. In the warm embrace of the marae the opportunity to enjoy the company of people is a highlight for me. The cultural celebrations of the many different organisations at Otakou were a wonderful addition to this year’s event. What impressed me was that many of the participants in those groups were young people, who were proud of who they were and where they come from. There is a lesson to be learned from that and a reminder that it will be those young people who will carry the mantle of partnership into the future.

Dunedin North or South? Boundary Politics

The New Zealand Electoral Commission has announced that the Dunedin South and North electorate boundaries are to be changed. Big deal you might say, how will this affect the Otago Peninsula? The proposal is to remove all of the Otago Peninsula from Ocean Grove to Taiaroa Head from Dunedin South electorate and add it to Dunedin North.

The NZ Electoral commission are required under the Electoral Act (1993) to use a complex population formula based on our previous flawed census of 2018 to ensure electorates are spread evenly by quota. In the case of Dunedin South the Otago Peninsula’s current electorate is “6.6% below quota and must gain population. Population of 12,200 is added from Clutha-Southland including Milton, Balclutha, Kaitangata and Lawrence. Dunedin South loses population of 8,000 from the Otago Peninsula to Dunedin North.” On the face of it that seems fair and reasonable, but if you look carefully at the report it says “Dunedin North is 5.8% below quota and must gain population. Population of 8,000 is added from Dunedin South including the Otago Peninsula. Dunedin North loses population of 2,500 to Waitaki including Palmerston, Hampden and Herbert, bringing the northern boundary to the Dunedin City Council boundary.” In a nutshell the Electoral Commission are “robbing Peter to Paul” to ensure the population quota is balanced.

What is deeply concerning about these proposed changes for the Otago Peninsula is that they pay no heed to our traditional cultural, strategic, economic or social connections with our area. In December I wrote to Electoral Commission asking that these changes not proceed. They will cut us off from the areas that are traditionally part of our community. These changes are contrary to the needs and current position of the Peninsula community and will disadvantage our area quite significantly.

The Otago Peninsula is a broad area of diverse communities running from Tomahawk to Taiaroa Head. Our region has always been traditionally recognised politically, economically and socially as a unique regional entity. As Dunedin city has developed and travel has changed, our community has become more reliant on the services, economy, recreation and social connections within the Dunedin South area. Peninsula intermediate and secondary school children all mainly attend schools within the Dunedin South area and this is too is a major part of the social connection our community has in this area. It seems completely counter-intuitive to move the people who shop, bank, undertake business, play sport and educate their children in the Dunedin South electorate to one that they have no connection too.

One part of the Peninsula community particularly at risk from these proposed electorate changes is the community of Tomahawk. Tucked between the beginning of South Dunedin and the southern end of the Otago Peninsula this community has fiercely fought electorate reform before so as to continue to be considered part of the Otago Peninsula Community Board area. These electorate changes will disenfranchise this community from effective representation by placing them in an electorate that has no connection to them geographically or socially.

As the Otago Peninsula Community Board Chairman, I oppose these proposed electorate changes most strongly. We rely heavily on the Dunedin South area as our natural link with Dunedin City and more importantly as a part of that community. Common-sense must prevail here, and rather than have lines drawn on maps in Wellington genuine representatives of the community must be listened to for the good of our community.

Remembering What’s Important

With the Christmas holiday period fast approaching, we tend to get drawn into the whirlpool of planning family gatherings, school break ups, shopping and overloading our fridges beyond their intended capacity. Worrying whether we should have ham or chicken and will grandma be all right sleeping on a camp stretcher in the spare room removes us from some of the real issues around this period. The holiday season can be a difficult time for some families and individuals. Financial, familial stress, loneliness and isolation are often exacerbated at this time of the year, as people come to terms with the holidays and all that goes with it. Christmas is a time for families and a time for giving, but it’s an opportunity to think about our wider community whanau and their needs. It’s about giving just a fraction of your time in this frantic time to others. Reaching out to people who live on their own, or neighbours you don’t see often helps to break down the isolation others may feel at Christmas. I encourage everyone on the Otago Peninsula to put down the tinsel and the lights for a moment and think about the people around you and how Christmas may look to them.

The recent eruption of White Island/Whakaari and the death and injuries to the cruise ship passengers and their guides was a terrible tragedy. The violence and suddenness of the eruption took the country by surprise and it’s hard not to feel great sympathy for everyone involved. A great deal of credit goes to the many people who have been brave and tireless in the care and welfare of the dead and injured. The cruise ship industry has become an economic staple of the Dunedin economy, with thousands of tourists visiting our city and the Otago Peninsula every year. How we care for tourists and keep them safe while they’re in our city, on our roads and visiting our attractions is something we must be very mindful of. It also brings up the continual quest by communities to ensure that we have the infrastructure and services to cope with the impacts of tourism. It’s a particularly pertinent time to consider those matters as we approach the hospital rebuild and 2020’s Council Annual Plan.

Finally, to all of the community, I wish you a safe and happy holiday period. Be good to one another, enjoy each other’s company and come back in 2020 refreshed and ready for the new year’s challenges.

(Printed in the Star December 2020)