Tag Archives: Environmental Education

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.

Home on the Range

Planting at Victory BeachOne of the great things about living on the Otago Peninsula and having children at a local school is you get to do some of the cool things that they do as well. I was one of two parents who took a group of children from Portobello School to Okia Reserve for “World Ranger Day” with the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Getting children out of the classroom and providing a genuine ranger experience was a great concept, but having pupils from the three Peninsula schools was pure genius. Like it or not there is a need for conservation groups to be prepared to pass on the mantle of stewardship onto a younger generation, and the earlier we do this the better. Peninsula kids are very fortunate that they grow up in a landscape inhabited by iconic wildlife species. We can only hope that this experience and their own inquiry will develop either empathetic citizens or active conservationists.

What I really enjoyed about the ranger day was the hands on activities that provided a genuine wildlife management experience. From exercises in measuring and identifying birds, to pest control and habitat creation, each activity was designed to show what really needs to be done in wildlife conservation. So much of what actually goes on in the field is unknown to the public, and to be able to provide that experience for our school children was a great experience. I’m sure many of the pupils will share their experience with their parents and family.

After events like this there’s always time to pause and reflect on some of the things that you take away from them. One of the big issues that stands out for me is how much the Peninsula relies on voluntary organisations and citizen conservationists to protect and advocate for our wildlife and landscape. The voluntary hours, fundraising and hard work put into places like Okia is quite staggering, and that is both comforting and concerning at the same time. It also highlights my view that the Peninsula Community Board has an important role to act as advocates and supporters for conservation groups in our district. That means using policy, planning and financial forums to ensure this critical work can continue on the Peninsula. After my experience at Okia it’s not difficult to understand just how important that role is and how rewarding it can be for our children today and in the future.