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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The announcement of the review of the Dunedin City Council Book Bus service is a pertinent reminder to all Otago Peninsula residents of the importance of local services. The review should be treated as an opportunity by the community to consider modernising the services that the Book Bus can supply. These should include WiFi, online services and wider Council customer services. Submissions close on the 27th May 2017 and can be done online or on hard-copy from clicking the link here.
The book bus in the 1970’s was decorated by children from Portobello School.
Its been a busy year for myself and the Peninsula Community Board with a variety of issues and projects. I never find being on the Board a chore because there’s always something interesting to be done or a new people to meet. I’ve always been a problem-solver so being on the Board is actually an enjoyable challenge. I’m looking forward to 2016 because I feel I have more to offer and do for the community. Some of those issues include;
The 2GP and how the final issues around hazard management and rural are resolved for regions like the Peninsula.
Tomahawk School and the ongoing need to ensure the community have a say in the way these Council assets are managed.
Tomahawk Lagoon and the way the ORC manage the water quality and levels for the welfare of the community.
Roading projects around the Peninsula including the re-opening of Highcliff Road.
Sand dune management in places like Tomahawk and Okia.
Supporting the Te Rauone community to complete their beach management project.
Reviewing how effective the new freedom camping bylaw has been.
Continuing to advocate for better broadband and rural internet access.
I’ve been actively involved with community groups for nearly 25 years. I’ve worked with them professionally in a range of roles and issues as well as stepping up in my own community and actively taking part in many of them. They’re an interesting dynamic, some are enthusiastic, positive and embrace new challenges. Others, have very set goals and objectives and seldom deviate from that path. Perhaps the biggest challenge is a community’s ability to develop effective co-ordination and communication between various agencies and local government. Often it is one of the most frustrating things for community groups who can see local government as an impediment to decision-making in the community. How many times do you see in the media, frustrations vented by community groups over what appear to be officious and unnecessary rules? It raises the question, how well does local government actually listen and engage with its community?
Its become clear that the City Council are reinventing the wheel for community engagement with the abolition of Community Boards and passing on that role to specific groups. Yet, it’s also clear that the City Council are not looking at why their engagement to date has failed outside of areas that have Community Boards. Which raises another important question, would it not be more useful and probably more successful to develop urban Community Boards to improve the Council’s representation? A final question is, in a city of 120,000 people and 14 City Councillors just how well are those Councillors providing information to their constituents, and is this a case where the so-called “super ward” doesn’t actually provide the level of representation required?
As I raised earlier community groups are an interesting dynamic that have a variety of causes, motivations and membership. With this in mind one of my biggest concerns over the City Councils plans is the question of community and representational equity. The limited and competitive funding base for community groups has shrunk over recent years and this trend does not seem to be easing. Which raises further questions about what funding model the City Council would use to implement this plan? From the newspaper article its clear that the City Council may well have to fund additional staffing to ensure the proposal works, but that doesn’t include the annual operating costs that community groups will undoubtedly have. With often stringent criteria for external funding it seems unlikely national and local funding groups are likely to want to fund community groups purely on the basis that they are privatised conduits for Council information services and representation. Importantly too, it seems doubtful that community’s will want a group whose sole focus is the dissemination of Council information and not developing individual projects that meet the community’s needs.
The views of one group may not be the views of the community
One of the biggest issues with this proposal is transparency. Community Boards are generally not agenda driven, but driven by service to the community through an electoral process and the confines of the City’s Long Term Plan. That means that Board members are accountable to the constituents of their district in their decision-making. Community groups are not accountable in the same way. In fact they are only accountable to their membership, which may not be an inclusive representation of the district that they come from. This can be seriously divisive in the community, where people can feel disenfranchised and distanced from those who hold the information, funding and ultimately the power. Other concerns over such a model must be the relationship that the City Council has with a community group. A group who has the “ear of the Council” will be able to forward their agenda or philosophy as the “dominant” view of the community, when often the views within a community are far more complex. There’s also a real danger that groups who hold with a prevailing philosophy popular with Council, may be more likely to be successful with funding and support. That could lead to an inequitable distribution of resources that is politically driven, rather than being based on community need.
Community representation should be fair, equitable and transparent
Finally, there is the question of social equity and the ability to ensure that each community within a district can manage and sustain community aspirations through their local groups. It’s clear to me that poorer community’s and ones without leadership are often the ones who miss out on funding and resources where its most needed. Socio-economic pressures and education within some districts will limit the ability of people in those areas to organise and rally their community. Well educated and well organised community’s are far more likely to be able to be proactive in the promotion of their needs. Coupled with this concern is also how the community and Council will deal with recruitment, group failures, generational change and even an unwillingness of some communities to engage with the process. From my perspective and with my experience, there are significant failings in this scheme by the City Council. Perhaps most worrying is that the City Council seem to want to “manufacture” community groups and leadership to cope with their own failings in consultation and engagement. It simply doesn’t work that way, groups form around central issues that are affecting a community or neighbourhood. They are largely issues-based organisations that evolve into wider entities or disappear once the issue is resolved. By all means we should support and nurture groups within the community, but it must be in a transparent and equitable way.