Tue, Nov 7, 2023 5:00 AM

This coast needs protection




The dedication and commitment of volunteers, working to protect 42 kms of coastline from predators was very much in evidence at a recent Field Day, organised to celebrate the winners of the 2023 Landscape & Habitat Award, presented at the Cawthron Marlborough Environment Awards.

The East Coast Protection Group (ECPG) was formed following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, with the aim of protecting and enhancing the biodiversity of the coastal environment.

At the same time the group is increasing awareness amongst visitors and the local community of the variety of unique birds, plants and landscape along the coast, hopefully giving the birds and animals time and space to survive and for the coast to recover from the upheaval of the earthquake.

Scientist Shawn Gerrity from the University of Canterbury Marine Ecology Research Group said, the rocks rose up to 6.5 metres in places causing the demise of many species sheltering in the cool and wet algae habitat, which has now gone. Many of these species are endemic to New Zealand. The Department holds 30 years of data on the inter-tidal area along the coast, so the changes are easily quantified.

Paua use the inter-tidal area to breed and grow and many of these habitats were
destroyed, but many new environments have developed naturally. Shawn has witnessed a good recovery, only to see a 75 per cent decline in the population following the reopening of the fishery. Increasing warm water events and gravel scour of the reefs continue to provide challenges along the 180 kms of coastline monitored by the University.

Sonya Roxburgh of the ECPG says protection of the vulnerable ground nesting birds from predators and from the increasing number of visitors who want to
explore the area is a major aim of the ECPG. Variable oyster catchers and Banded dotterel are among the rare birds nesting along the beach.

In 2021 only 1 Variable oyster catcher fledged, in 2022 there was an improvement with 5 chicks reaching the fledgling stage, neither year produced enough birds
to sustain the population. Dotterel nests are particularly difficult to see with quad bikes providing a substantial danger to the breeding birds. Typically, 45 peer cent
of eggs are predated by feral cats before hatching and only 8pere cent reaching the fledging stage.

Shannon Mears of the ECPG is responsible for organising the 42kms of trap line with 240 traps currently laid. Of the major predators, hedgehogs and feral cats
cause the most damage. In the last two years 946 hedgehogs have been trapped,139 feral cats,66 weasels,10 ferrets,34 stoats, and 70 rabbits. Dogs and vehicles present an additional hazard to wildlife. Migratory birds and unique invertebrates are other inhabitants of the area.

Mike Avis of the Marlborough District Council has been responsible for the establishment of native plants along the coastline from Marfells Beach to the
Ure River. MDC was one of the first councils to be involved in the development and preservation of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs), through the 2000 Resource Management Act.

Avis says the coast from Marfells Beach to the mouth of the Ure River is a highly important area of diversity and a virtually uninterrupted SNA. The areas where
the land has been uplifted has provided areas of new beach and presented an amazing opportunity to establish indigenous plants.

The Provincial Growth Fund billion tree programme has contributed to the funds for the plantings, which will help protect the shoreline and provide shelter for the many unique invertebrates, such as the katipo spider, flightless moths, geckos and skinks unique to New Zealand.

Instigators of the project, Rob and Sally Peter, who farm 3300 acres along the coast, say that it’s surprising what has survived during the past 300 to 400 years.
The original totara and natives were burnt, followed by the establishment of tussock, the invasion of rabbits during the 1900s, a huge earthquake in 1855 and the Kaikoura quake of 2016.

He says that there is still much to do and everyone can make a difference by volunteering, funding and lobbying. A $30 annual membership is available.
Email eastcoastprotectiongroup@gmail.com or check out their Facebook pages and help protect the coast.

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