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Waving goodbye to our coastline

In October 2015, South Wairarapa District Council issued a notice to the owner of this bach affected by erosion on Cape Palliser Rd, stating that it must be removed or demolished as it was deemed dangerous under the Building Act. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

Heavy swells tore chunks out of Cape Palliser Rd last week. PHOTO/FILE

The Wairarapa coast faces the highest sea rise rates in New Zealand, according to new data.

This week the NZ SeaRise Programme made public statistics showing the predicted sea rise every 2km around the nation’s coastline, with Wairarapa’s coast estimated to rise more than 1.5 metres by 2100.

The data, funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, was a surprise to many as it meant that sea-rise was hitting New Zealand a lot sooner than experts thought.

The project warned that, based on current emissions, the sea would rise twice as fast as previous predictions, halving the timeframe for managing the effects.

Victoria University of Wellington professor and SeaRise programme co-leader Tim Naish said there was still time to act, but “we don’t have time to sit on our hands anymore”.

“If you’re a council representative or a developer, or you’re a decision-maker in the coastal areas of New Zealand, you need to start thinking right now what the plan is for adapting to that sea-level rise,” Naish said.

Cape Palliser Rd. PHOTO/FILE

According to the data, parts of Wairarapa would have an additional 31cm of sea-level rise in eight years. Just two decades later, the coastline could have 57-61cm of sea-level rise depending on the approach to climate change.

The alarming statistics raised questions about what plans were in place to protect communities, infrastructure, and land from flooding and erosion.

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South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] said it was aware of the rising sea levels.

“Climate change is a constant part of our thinking, particularly with regards to water, roading and other projects,” a spokesperson said.

Last week, heavy waves ripped chunks out of Cape Palliser Rd, prompting road closures and warnings to motorists on the south coast.

Storm-damaged roads on the South Wairarapa coastline during the 2020 covid-19 lockdown. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

The spokesperson said an eco-reef trial at Whatarangi on Cape Palliser Rd was part of efforts to take climate change into account, and a second ‘reef’ at Turners Bay would hopefully follow in the spring-summer months.

EcoReef was a joint project between Wellington manufacturer Agmar Tools, which supplied materials, and the council, which provided installation.

Further north, Masterton District Council [MDC] chief executive David Hopman said the council incorporated climate change impacts in its long-term planning, including the
sea rising in coastal areas.

“The information released yesterday, particularly around the rate of land subsiding, provides shorter timeframes for these impacts, which will need to be reflected in planning,” he said.

“The key document in this area is the Wairarapa Combined District Plan, which is currently under review, and the findings of NZ SeaRise will be incorporated in this process.”

“Under the Resource Management Act, the effects of climate change and management of significant risks from natural hazards – including the risk of coastal erosion from sea-level rise – must be addressed as part of the review.”

Hopman said a proposed updated plan would likely be available for public feedback in 2023.

“The plan already includes measures related to the foreshore protection area, but it is too early to say how these will be affected by this new information.

“There is no immediate risk for coastal communities, but the council is very aware of the need for careful planning on this issue.”

Carterton District Council [CDC] said the only coastline in their district was Flat Point and did not provide further comment.

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