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Published: 2013-04-10 00:00:00

Increasing pressure on Waikato’s coastal environment will need to be managed carefully, particularly on the Coromandel Peninsula, Waikato Regional Council’s resource use and environmental monitoring committee has heard today.

Currently the council spends about $4 million a year on managing and monitoring the health of the marine environment in the region.

Reports on coastal estuarine environments to today’s committee meeting said Thames, Whitianga and Whangamata were all expected to grow strongly.

“In the next 30 years the population of Auckland will also have increased by one million and so the holiday population on the Coromandel, which already swells to five times the usual size, will grow accordingly,” a report said.

The Coromandel was often referred to as the playground of the Waikato, Auckland and beyond but “increasing development pressures” highlighted the need for its “management and protection” for a range of “economic, cultural, recreational and environmental reasons”.

The reports said the council has a work programme underway to identify what needs to be done to protect the coastal area in light of these increasing pressures.

Currently, harbour and catchment plans are in place for Whangamata and Wharekawa, and one is under development for Tairua and Pauanui. These plans are designed to reduce sediment and nutrients from getting into the coastal marine area where they can degrade water quality and harm aquatic life. This can have a negative impact on tourism.

The council is also closely monitoring the environmental impacts of land-based activities, such as farming and forestry, in the southern Firth of Thames and Raglan Harbour on the west coast. Tairua-Pauanui monitoring is due to start next financial year. This monitoring will provide the council with information on changes in the marine environment and help determine future work programmes.

The council has been putting in place resource consent conditions to ensure that discharges into the sea from stormwater systems and wastewater treatment plants are of a high standard. Consent conditions covering activities such as farming, forestry and industry are also designed to help protect the marine environment. For example, discharges from outlets such as factories and wastewater plants into the Waihou River, which flows into the Firth of Thames, have been significantly reduced over the last 10 years.

The reports indicated the council should ideally be able to do more management and monitoring work over time and that this could be considered as more funding became available.

“A lot of work is being done in co-operation with other agencies to plan for the way we will manage the coastal environment going into the future,” said coast and marine programme manager Dr Peter Singleton.

“Staff will provide further information to councillors on potential work programmes once the joint planning we’re doing points a clearer way ahead.”

The committee agreed that looking at the question of more funding for future work in this area was warranted.

Committee chair Lois Livingston said after the meeting that the information presented in the reports highlighted significant economic, environmental and recreational issues.

“We all know our coastal spaces are valuable environments in their own right and provide important economic and recreational benefits to our communities, and those of neighbouring regions.

“Given the growth being anticipated in our coastal communities, and the growing populations of cities like Auckland and Hamilton, it will be crucial to ensure we do what we can to protect our coasts.”