Weed nearly takes life

South Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE - By PET­RICE TAR­RANT

Lucky Uer­ata al­most lost his life be­cause of over­grown weed at Lake Marae­tai.

Iron­i­cally, it was pure luck that the 14-year-old boy is alive to tell the tale to­day.

Dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days Lucky and his cousin, who was camp­ing by the lake, de­cided to swim out to the pon­toon just off the lake’s shore.

Lucky said his cousin must have cho­sen a weed-free route, but he wasn’t so for­tu­nate.

The last thing he re­mem­bered be­fore black­ing out was fran­ti­cally try­ing to jump up for air.

But the weeds on the lake bed had a firm grip around the Toko­roa boy’s legs.

‘‘I re­mem­ber try­ing to yell out to my cousin for help.

‘‘The weed just wrapped around me and I couldn’t move at all.’’

It was a mem­ber of the public who no­ticed Lucky had not sur­faced af­ter a cou­ple of min­utes and ran in and hauled his body out.

A nearby nurse ran over and per­formed CPR on the youth who even­tu­ally started breath­ing.

‘‘It was weird be­cause I woke up and saw my mum cry­ing and I was like ‘what’s wrong mum?’ ’’

Lake front busi­ness owner Garry Grad­well saw the in­ci­dent un­ravel.

In his nine years living in Man­gakino, he had never seen any­thing like it – or the weed as thick as it was then. Not that that sur­prised him. ‘‘When I first started here, it [the weed har­vester] would come just be­fore Labour Week­end and the lake bed would stay clear for the sum­mer.’’

That hap­pened for two years, he said.

‘‘Then it stopped. It came last win­ter but be­fore that I hadn’t seen it for about six years.’’

He said he has sent nu­mer­ous mes­sages off to both the Taupo Dis­trict Coun­cil and Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil to ask who was re­spon­si­ble.

But af­ter nu­mer­ous dead ends he took it upon him­self to fix the prob­lem.

He cooked hot chips free of charge for hol­i­day stay­ers, both adults and chil­dren, to rake the weeds up.

The bank was lined with weeds by the end of the ex­er­cise, he said.

When con­tacted by the South Waikato News the WRC said it was aware of the near-death in­ci­dent but said Land In­for­ma­tion New Zealand (LINZ) was re­spon­si­ble for weed clear­ance.

Horn­wort is a sub­merged, float­ing aquatic weed that is wide­spread through­out the North Is­land.

It is not listed in Waikato’s re­gional pest man­age­ment strat­egy.

LINZ act­ing group manager crown prop­erty John Hook said lev­els at Lake Marae­tai were ‘‘pe­ri­od­i­cally’’ con­trolled by the use of a weed har­vester owned and made avail­able by Mighty River Power.

‘‘ Some con­trol work was un­der­taken by Mighty River Power in the af­fected area of the lake last week at the re­quest of LINZ.’’

Hook said it was not clear that weed lev­els were sig­nif­i­cantly higher this year than in pre­vi­ous years de­spite Grad­well’s claims.

‘‘How­ever we are aware of the in­ci­dent in which a teenager was caught in the weed around Christ­mas.

‘‘We and our part­ners – Taupo Dis­trict Coun­cil and Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil – are tak­ing this very se­ri­ously and are cur­rently con­sid­er­ing op­tions to agree a long-term so­lu­tion to this prob­lem.’’

Last Wed­nes­day the har­vester turned up to the lake and while it is bet­ter than noth­ing, Grad­well said it would have made more sense to clear the weeds be­fore Christ­mas.

‘‘Ev­ery­one’s gone home now... We rely on vis­i­tors and the lake is the big­gest at­trac­tion for them.

‘‘A lot of peo­ple won’t come back be­cause of it [the weed],’’ he said.

WEED NUI­SANCE: Garry Grad­well be­lieves the weed har­vester should come be­fore Christ­mas, as it used to, to keep the lake bed clear for young swim­mers.

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