Sandspit: Threatened bird habitat not a dumping ground

Auckland Council and the Rodney Local Board need to protect estuarine habitats at Sandspit, the gateway to Kawau Island, not promote a destructive marina there.

Recently I met with local community members and legendary marine ecologist and conservationist Dr Roger Grace. Sandspit SOS Inc (SSOSI) and other community members are is fighting to preserve the remaining natural character of the sandspit which gives its name to this small settlement near Warkworth on the north-western coast of the Hauraki Gulf.

The natural spit of sand, forms an estuary at the mouth of the Matakana and Glen Eden rivers. It is home to a host of plant life and several threatened and at risk shorebird species – banded rails, godwits, pied stilts and oystercatchers. Shorebirds use the sand and shell-banks to roost. The spit roosts are the only high tide roosts for wading birds in the whole estuary.

Pied stilts and godwits at Deans Lagoon, Sandspit

Development has taken its toll. A large car park, grassy reserve, café and ferry terminal servicing Kawau Island dominate the northern half of the spit, draining one and a half of the original three lagoons, destroying large areas of indigenous salt marsh and reducing bird habitat. Local residents have well researched plans to restore and re-vegetate some of the area and establish a bird-watching hide.

Development at Sandspit - 1930's and today

The remaining lagoons and salt marsh are threatened by the impending development of a 131-berth marina aided and abetted by the Rodney Local Board and Auckland Council.

The Rodney District Council declined the original RMA land consent applications but the Sandspit Yacht Club Marina Society appealed this to the Environment Court and gained consent. The Auckland Council as Rodney Council’s successor supported the marina effectively promoting further habitat destruction ahead of restoration.

This is despite the Environment Court stating:

“Council has over-provided for parking, and could put greater emphasis on ecological matters especially leading to the bird roost.

“we are particularly concerned about the banded rail, a cryptic and rare species”

Recognising the popularity of recreational yachting and boating in the Hauraki Gulf, the Rodney District Council created a special zone in its district plan in 1993 for an integrated holiday, recreation, residential area including a marina – at nearby Goldsworthy Bay.

The benefits of a marina at Goldsworthy Bay over the Sandspit location are numerous. Whereas Sandspit estuary is shallow and will always have siltation problems thanks to the two rivers flowing into it, Goldsworthy Bay has deeper water, reducing the need for initial and on-going dredging.  Goldsworthy Bay is closer to Kawau Island and crucially, is not home to rare and threatened bird species.

Family of banded rail in the lagoon - a "cryptic and rare species" according to the Environment Court.

I share Save Our Sandspit’s puzzlement and frustration as to why a location which has been earmarked for a marina, and which would have significant economic and ecological advantages, has not been chosen.

At this stage, Sandspit residents have conceded that with consents approved, the marina could go ahead if the marina society can find approx $12 million. But to add insult to injury, the Rodney Local Board supported a motion, put forward by a member with a conflict of interests, to investigate allowing the marina society to cut its costs at the expense of the environment, to dump dredged sediments on the spit with the excuse of making it more resilient to sea level rise. There was no discussion with the local community prior to the Board passing this motion.

Boat trailers backed into the salt marsh - rare bird habitat

Sea level rise is indeed a serious threat, but adapting to it should involve safeguarding estuaries as a natural buffer, not further compromising them. The more likely motive for dumping dredging on the spit is that it is a cheap and convenient way to dispose of them – the alternative is a 112-kilometre return barge trip offshore north of Cuvier Island.

The Hauraki Gulf Forum is working hard to halt and reverse the decline of the Gulf. But members have their work cut out for them, when they are up against local authorities and development agencies who seem hell bent on expensive projects that will harm remaining natural areas.  At some stage ecological and economic sense must prevail.

Photos courtesy of Dr Roger Grace.

The spit roosts are the only high tide roosts for wading birds in the whole estuary.

1 Comment Posted

  1. As a committee member of the Hauraki Islands Branch of Forest & Bird I find the Sandspit ‘story’ very concerning as it seems to suggest that Auckland Council is not supportive of Hauraki Gulf Forum objectives. How can local F & B branches support the local people. What branch of the Society is getting involved with this issue. Have locals made direct contact with e.g. Councillor Mike Lee (Forest & Bird supporter) or Christine Fletcher (very much involved in Gulf conservation and the Forum).

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