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Priorities and Related Actions for the Sustainable Management of the Firth of Thames Ramsar Site


Report: TR 2008/15

Author: B. Brownell, J. Dahm and M. Graeme


The Muddy Feet project provides a framework for coordinated action to identify and address risks to the southern and south-western coast and intertidal zone of the Firth of Thames, an area recognised as an internationally important wetland under the Ramsar Convention. It is ranked as one of New Zealand's three most important areas for shorebirds and annually hosts more than 49 different migratory bird species, numbering some 20,000 individuals. The Ramsar site is potentially vulnerable to activities occurring in surrounding marine and land environments including drainage from approximately 175,000 ha of catchment.

‘Muddy Feet’ is a joint effort by Environment Waikato; Auckland Regional Council; Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki and Franklin district councils; the Department of Conservation; the Ministry of Fisheries; local iwi and the Miranda Naturalists’ Trust. The project also has support from the Hauraki Gulf Forum, the Hauraki Maori Trust Board and Matamata-Piako District Council. The project was initiated in 1998 by Ecoquest Education Foundation and was funded by grants from the Environmental Initiatives Fund (Environment Waikato), Hauraki District Council and Thames-Coromandel District Council, along with other forms of support from the Department of Conservation (Auckland and Waikato conservancies), Auckland Regional Council and Waikato District Council.

The Muddy Feet project has highlighted issues of habitat loss and degradation that potentially pose a serious threat to the values of the internationally important Ramsar wetland and immediate environs in the southern Firth of Thames. Phase I of the project focused on current knowledge of the Ramsar site and the surrounding marine environment. Phase II has focused on clarifying risks to the site and identifying management gaps that need to be addressed.

This report presents a summary of the management gaps identified from Phase II of the project. In particular it outlines and prioritises critical actions that are required to reduce key risks to the Ramsar site, and also identifies critical gaps that need to be addressed through on-the-ground action now (that is, action in and around the Ramsar site). Those actions that require a longer term focus (for example, new research, policy changes and broader catchment actions) are also addressed.

It is clear from preceding work and the gap analysis that:

  • the values of the Ramsar site have been modified through an ongoing trend of habitat loss and degradation
  • inaction will result in ongoing degradation of this internationally important wetland.

The gap analysis has also highlighted a paucity of information with regard to the various habitats in the southern Firth of Thames and a need for a more holistic ecosystem approach to management of this area, including baseline investigations to identify the current values and community characteristics, ongoing monitoring to detect any significant change and attention to cumulative effects. There is an overarching need to develop a general ecosystem understanding, including an ability to identify and address cumulative effects.

Identified gaps have been divided into two groups based on priorities and practicalities.

  • High priority to be undertaken within 1-5 years (ideally within the term of the current 2006-16 LTCCP). These are the practically achievable actions required in the immediate future to reverse habitat loss and degradation. They largely involve on the ground action in and around the Ramsar site.
  • Medium priority required in the longer term (beyond five years) to prevent significant habitat loss and degradation, and include addressing indirect effects from the wider catchment.

Priorities were assessed based on the practicality and achievability of the recommended actions, the timelines likely to be required and the effectiveness of the action in addressing key threats and reversing existing trends for degradation. Prioritisation of the actions was based on both expert judgment and discussions with representatives of the various management agencies and community groups.

High priority actions have been further divided into three groups.

  • A Restoration Action Project to implement practical on the ground actions to enhance environmental values, inform and involve local communities and arrest degradation trends. This primarily addresses the habitat loss and degradation issues highlighted in this report that require immediate action by regional and district councils over the next 1-5 years.
  • Marine biosecurity actions required to prevent incursions of serious invasive species, to be coordinated by central government (for example, Ministry of Fisheries and Biosecurity New Zealand).
  • Fundamental research required to develop a general ecosystem understanding to identify important values and threats, and to address cumulative effects – to be undertaken by Crown research agencies and universities using central government funding. It is expected that Hauraki Gulf Forum agencies will actively advocate and encourage this research.

Priorities and Related Actions for the Sustainable Management of the Firth of Thames Ramsar Site [PDF, 237 KB]

Executive summary iv
1 Introduction 1
1.1 Background 1
1.2 Purpose of the project 2
2 Structure of report 4
3 Habitat loss and degradation 6
3.1 Mangrove expansion 6
3.2 Invasive species 7
3.3 Predation and browsing 9
3.4 Human recreation and disturbance 10
3.5 Climate change 11
3.6 Drainage, infilling and associated land uses 12
3.7 Fishing/aquaculture 14
4 Sedimentation 17
5 Contaminants 19
5.1 Nutrients 19
5.2 Other contaminants 21
Recommendations 24
References 30
Appendix A: Linkages to other projects in the southern firth and catchments 31