Climate change concerns Horizons and Horowhenua Councils

I’m sure all of us at Waikawa Beach are concerned about rainfall and drought, but given our community borders the coast and includes a river, we’re definitely 4 for 4 on the concerns listed below:

Horizons Regional Council approved the establishment of a Joint Climate Action Committee for the region at [February 2021]’s Council meeting.

The new Joint Committee, which will include representatives from iwi, Horizons and seven territorial authorities, will oversee action on climate change across the region. 

Horizons Regional Council Chair Rachel Keedwell says climate change is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face.

“While we are uncertain about the pace and scale of climate change, we do know that the Horizons Region is already being affected by increasing temperatures, changes to rainfall patterns, river flows, increased drought, and ongoing sea-level rise.

Climate change joint committee gets green light – Horizons Regional Council:

Australasian Bittern sightings

The critically endangered Australasian Bittern is extremely rare and very hard to see, but we’re lucky enough that there’s one hanging round the Strathnaver area. Reay Mackay Grove resident Kezna Cameron reported in a Facebook post:

Nice to see the Bittern down at the lake on the corner of Reay Mackay and Strathnaver this evening!

She also linked to this brief but very interesting video about the bird, and took the two photos below (used with permission).

Australasian Bittern in flight.
Australasian Bittern in flight. Photo by Kezna Cameron.
Australasian Bittern on grass.
Australasian Bittern. Photo by Kezna Cameron.

How spinifex protects Waikawa Beach

Did you know that native Spinifex and Pīngao grasses help hold sand and build the dunes, while Marram Grass was planted by Europeans because cows would eat it? In times gone by, before we had a robust roading system, cows (and other stock) were often driven along the beaches. See Spanking down the level beach, in a horse-drawn coach.

In recent years Horowhenua District Council have provided thousands of spinifex for local volunteers to plant at Waikawa Beach.

The 13 minute Radio NZ Our Changing World episode, Growing dune plants a challenging passion, is really interesting. Each year, horticulturist Jo Bonner and the team at Coastlands Plants in Whakatāne grow 200,000 spinifex plants and 100,000 pingao plants. And they are probably the source for our spinifex.

Spinifex seed head.
Spinifex seed head.

The most important thing about the foredune plants is their ability to fix the dunes after a large storm event,” says Jo.

The key, in the case of spinifex, is long vigorous runners which grow towards the sea and quickly cover foredunes ravaged by storm swells. The hairy plants then trap wind-blown sand which rebuilds a gentle dune. …

One issue facing spinifex and pingao has been a decline in seed fertility.

“We used to get 50-80 seeds from each spinifex seed head,” says Jo, referring to the iconic spiky spinifex seed head that you see rolling down the beach on a sunny day. “Nowadays it can be as little as 15 seeds per head.” …

She also says that it’s important not to walk or drive over sand dune plants, as it’s very easy to damage them. And destroying the plants damages precious sand dunes which are playing an increasingly important role in protecting our coasts from the impact of sea level rise.

The quality of water in Waikawa River isn’t very high

On 13 December 2020 a small team from Salt Ecology, working on behalf of Horizons Regional Council, headed upstream on the river to undertake a water quality survey. They weren’t checking E. Coli, like the weekly monitors, but were instead looking at things like sediment and nitrates.

Do we have any community members with relevant expertise who could summarise these findings in plain language for us?

This isn’t the first time they’ve done such monitoring. Here are two reports they’ve provided. They are highly technical as they were written for a specialist audience rather than the general public, so unless you have relevant training you might just want to skip to the Results sections.

In 2019 and 2020 findings suggested there’s plenty of room for improvement in our river:

Overall the results indicate that the estuary is continuing to express strong symptoms of eutrophication with large parts of the upper estuary currently adversely impacted by elevated catchment inputs of nutrients and, to a lesser degree, sediments.

Continue reading “The quality of water in Waikawa River isn’t very high”

Walking the river to help the fish and whitebait

There’s a bit of attention being paid to the Waikawa Stream at the moment. On Tuesday 15 December 2020 this team from Horizons Regional Council took a look at our river. They found a weir which will need to be cleared away:

In the five months since receiving Jobs for Nature funding, Horizons Regional Council has employed a team of eight people who will open up 1,250 kilometres of habitat for migratory fish. …

“This will increase native fish numbers and distribution, improve aquatic habitat, and increase kākahi (freshwater mussel) populations,” …

“Ensuring fish can get up and down streams and rivers as part of their natural lifecycle contributes to Te Mana o Te Wai, the life-supporting capacity of water, ” said Martin Workman, Acting Deputy Secretary for Sustainable Land Use at Ministry for the Environment. …

In early November, Horizons successfully employed eight tertiary educated people who, following an induction that included swift water and electric fishing training, and have gotten straight to work.

“This work is important as many of the region’s waterways have lower native fish diversity and numbers than predicted. We know one of the key factors impacting the distribution and population of native fish is barriers to their migration,”

“Indigenous fish such as tuna (eels) and īnanga (whitebait) need to be able to move up and down freshwater habitats to access feeding and spawning environments and maintain healthy populations. Structures such as culverts, dams, weirs, fords and tide gates can delay or prevent fish movement and stop them from accessing these critical habitats,” said Mr Brown. …

Much of this work is done on foot, with the team walking up and down streams to record fish populations and assessing and removing potential barriers.

Source: Jobs for Nature fish passage project well underway – Horizons Regional Council.

Update: watch a brief video about the project.