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Restoring dignity to coastal lands

More than 60 volunteers braved a chilly southerly to support a public planting day at Onoke/Okorewa Lagoon. Photo: WALT DICKSON

With much of New Zealand’s remaining wetlands and coastal habitats under threat, you would think that there must be easier places than the harsh South Wairarapa coast to tackle a restoration project.

For the Onoke/Okorewa Lagoon it’s a good thing that the South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group put up their hand.

Their efforts are helping to restore dignity to the land and raise awareness of the biodiversity values of coastal lagoons and wetlands.

Just east of Lake Onoke, tucked in around the corner from the iconic Lake Ferry Hotel, the lagoon is a small but significant piece of natural history.

It was once the site of a little fishing village called Okorewa, at the mouth of where the Ruamahanga River drained into the ocean.

When water flows through the area were diverted in the 1950s as part of the Lower Wairarapa Valley Development Scheme, natural habitats were changed.

SWBG are not trying to turn back the clock, but instead want to ensure that the natural flora and fauna can once again flourish, which will also help improve water quality in the lagoon.

A public planting day at Okorewa Lagoon last month was the first of several in the area since the group was established in 2012. The event attracted more than 60 people including a bus load of enthusiastic volunteers from Wellington.

The combined effort resulted in nearly 2000 “eco-sourced” natives being planted.

The organiser of the planting day, SWBG member Jane Lenting, says a lot of thought goes into the types of plantings.

“We have to choose plants that can both survive being under water and being virtually completely dried out, so that leaves quite a small list.”

Mrs Lenting is thrilled with progress to date with the lagoon starting to “come alive” after only a few years.

Efforts to restore Okorewa Lagoon are part of a much wider initiative – the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project, a joint initiative between Greater Wellington Regional Council, the Department of Conservation, South Wairarapa District Council, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitane o Wairarapa Inc.

The project began in 2008 with the aim of enhancing the native ecology, and recreational and cultural opportunities, on public land in the area, and includes restoration work at Wairio Wetlands, Onoke Spit, Lake Domain Reserve, Donald’s Creek as well as Lake Ferry and Onoke/Okorewa Lagoon.

Wairarapa Moana is one of the largest remaining wetland complexes in New Zealand, and has ecological values of national and international significance.

SWBG haven’t restricted themselves to just the Okorewa Lagoon, cleaning up the riparian zone along the shore at Lake Ferry and planting with natives typical of the area. Away from the water’s edge, they have planted natives in a gully adjacent to the ‘grey water’ system above the Lake Ferry settlement, which runs off into the lagoon.

Co-founder of SWBG Heather Atkinson says the group brings together a diverse crew with a common goal of wanting to make a difference to improving land and water quality. It’s also about “restoring dignity to the land”, Mrs Atkinson says.

The group is a good example of what can be achieved, says SWBG member Roger Gaskell, and he encourages others to get involved.

“It can be slow going, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Making friends with Onoke Spit

Kahutara School pupils Willow Andersen, 10, (left) and Maia Svenson, 10, push stakes through a mulch mat to protect a young taupata plant at Onoke Spit. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A group of 40 hard-working Kahutara School pupils have joined a community group to work on native planting on Onoke Spit.

The 2km spit of public conservation land is made up of coarse sand, battered by the swells of Palliser Bay, regular gales from the Remutaka Ranges and inundation from Lake Onoke.

Despite the tough conditions, Onoke Spit has its own collection of hardy native animals and plants, with a few rare species, such as the Caspian tern and native sand tussock.

Residents Denise and Dougal MacKenzie co-ordinate the Friends of Onoke Spit that began planting native plants at the spit in 2010.

Kahutara School pupils have been involved for the past eight years, planting, weeding and mulching.

This year the pupils, the friends and staff from the Department of Conservation and Greater Wellington Regional Council planted 400 taupata, salt-marsh ribbonwood, oioi [jointed rush], and harakeke [flax].

Mrs MacKenzie said the aim was to remove introduced weeds, such as gorse, and replace them with natives.

“Gorse has been here for 50 years and it will take 50 years to get rid of it,” she said.

“It’s important to get the kids involved. Us oldies won’t be around in 50 years.”

Choosing the right plants for the conditions is essential.

“We know we will never get a forest. We want native ground cover for our lizards and birds.”

The Friends are also tackling introduced predators and recreational vehicles.

Introduced predators make a meal of eggs, chicks and any adult birds they can catch, while tyres tear up plants and crush nests and eggs.

Mr MacKenzie runs 120 predator traps on the spit and adjacent land and liaises with four-wheel drive clubs to encourage members to avoid the sensitive areas.

For more information, visit: www.naturespace.org.nz/groups/friends-onoke-spit

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