Whangamata Harbourcare have the go-ahead for the hand removal of mangrove seedlings in the Whangamata Harbour.
Three independent Hearings Commissioners, acting for Environment Waikato, granted a coastal permit for a 20 year seedling removal period, with certain conditions to protect bird life, cultural sites and the environment.
Environment Waikato's Chairman, Jenni Vernon described the decision as “pragmatic, and sensitive to affected parties”.
"This decision provides certainty to the Whangamata community that they will have a 20-year right to remove mangrove seedlings in order to “hold the line” and prevent the further spread of mangroves into the harbour area,” she said.
In settling on the 20-year term, the Commissioners noted that Environment Waikato staff had originally proposed a 10-year term, and other groups such as the Department of Conservation and iwi groups had sought shorter terms, until a wider harbour management plan could be developed. However the Commissioners believed that the 20-year time frame presented “a reasonably long period of time” which recognised the necessity for ongoing seedling removal.
The area of removal covers a significant part of the harbour foreshore, but excludes removing seedlings within mature mangrove areas, or in specified conservation sites such as in the upper harbour, as requested by the applicant.
In order to minimise any disturbance to bird life in the harbour, certain conditions have been placed on how the coastal permit can be exercised.
The method of seedling removal will ensure that mangrove seedlings are hand-pulled, and that only mangrove seedlings with a single stem are removed. The Commissioners noted that this condition was in line with the application by Whangamata Harbourcare.
Some iwi groups had sought to restrict Whangamata Harbourcare’s application for seedling removal, telling the Commissioners that waahi tapu (sacred sites) exist both around the edge of the harbour and on the foreshore.
“However the committee notes that there is currently nothing preventing people in their ordinary daily activities walking through precisely these same areas,” the Commissioners said.
“The committee considers that a condition requiring consultation on access routes for mangrove seedling removal as part of a management plan requirement should provide an avenue for clarifying these matters.”
Environment Waikato Councillor for the Coromandel, Arthur Hinds, says the Commissioners’ decision provides a common sense approach, and offers a pathway forward for the future management of the harbour.
“All stakeholders need to work together for the benefit of the harbour," he said.
"The Commissioners’ decision is an important step forward, which will allow mangrove seedling removal for an extensive timeframe, and sets out a framework for ongoing meaningful dialogue between the various groups connected or interested in the harbour.”
Cr Hinds noted that Environment Waikato staff have already completed the first draft of a comprehensive Harbour Management Plan, which is currently with stakeholder groups for review.