Tag Archives: Putting our community first

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.

The Freedom Factor

Freedom CampingIn the last few months we’ve seen the knotty problem of freedom camping in areas like Warrington raised by the community. Having spent the last three years on the Otago Peninsula Community Board dealing with this issue its become clear that we must act far more decisively than we have done to date. That means investment, dialogue and looking at innovative ways to control the effects of the activity on local people and local areas.

In the Peninsula example the Dunedin City Council undertook a trial of using the main street of Macandrew Bay. The result was an influx of campers in non self-contained vehicles stretching local resources to the limit. With it came significant unrest among the community and others that supported the trial. After consulting with the community the Board sought a change in the bylaw and a removal of the trial area from Macandrew Bay and this changed the problem dramatically. The bylaw also removed non self-contained vehicles off public areas onto designated areas or private motor camps. Unfortunately, in the Warrington example that change has brought about even greater pressure on the site as it becomes more popular for visitors. In my view, its time we moved away from ad hoc schemes and took a more planned approach to the issue city wide. A more comprehensive approach to the issue should:

  • Undertake proper research into visitor accommodation and expenditure through the University of Otago Tourism Department to have real data for decision-making and planning.
  • Invest in appropriate infrastructure so that we no longer have to “make do.”
  • Develop in partnership with the Department of Conservation or private enterprise for DoC style campsites with water, toilets and rubbish collection that can be used by campers for a nightly fee.
  • Have limits on the numbers at certain sites to reduce the stress on communities.
  • Close sites during the off-season to give the community a break from visitors.
  • Create jobs or contracts for the management of sites within the community for local people. No one is a better ambassador than a local person.
  • Resource enforcement, signage, and information properly so that everyone understands the rules.
  • Ensure non self-contained campers are in a designated freedom camping area or private camping ground only.
  • Look more deeply at the availability of land suitable for the activity. 

I don’t have a golden bullet or a magic wand to solve the problem, but we must take a far more pragmatic approach to the issue.

 

Our Hospital and its Future

This has been an issue that the City Council has not engaged with or supported the community. Protest over changes to food contracts have been met with deaf Council ears. The future of the hospital for the community, University of Otago Medical School and employment is a crucial issue for Dunedin. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. Its time that the Council acted in unison with the community and understood;

  • The impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy.
  • The importance of the hospital as a teaching and research facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally.
  • Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels.