Tag Archives: Otago Harbour

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.

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

 

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.