Plea for bigger sanctuary
Insatiable engine of progress and antiquated duck shooting laws threaten rare ducks
The proximity of the Ahuriri Estuary, Te Whanganui a Orotu, to the industrial heart of the city of Napier places a spotlight on the ever increasing environmental problems associated with our reliance on fossil fuels and poisons to feed our insatiable engine of progress.
Heavy metals and toxins found in the mud and water are at levels enough to make shellfish unsafe for human consumption while surface contamination is clearly visible, especially near the drains for storm and industrial runoff.
These pollutants affect the ecology and wellbeing of life in the entire estuarine environment and, sadly, mirror the workings of such contaminates through every living biological and geological entity on the planet.
Local iwi, Mana Ahuriri and environmental groups such as the Estuary Protection Society have worked hard to draw attention to the issues and support significant moves to restore the region. As the estuary is also home to many endangered birds the need for measures to protect it are paramount.More than 70 species of resident and migratory water birds are found there, including native ducks such as the pateke, the kotuku (white heron), the critically endangered matuku (bitten) and kawau (black shag) to the at-risk godwits and geese that migrate to the estuary each year from the northern hemisphere.
The walking tracks established by DoC along the estuary have done much to encourage community awareness of this unique place and our connection to species other than ourselves. Small huts along the trail provide pictures of the resident birds, both native and migratory, while well-written placards inform us of their feeding habits and their society. The visitor is encouraged to listen to and identify with the different birds while the overriding suggestion is that these creatures are worthy of respect and, in fact, sentient with their own social habits and life cycles.
The problem, however, starts about 200m from the end of the walkway — that is, the invisible line on the water where protection for these creatures suddenly stops. From this point the spectre of duckshooting huts litter the waterway, continuing up the estuary to the foothills of Poraiti and beyond, like ominous military outposts to a culture still intent on plundering the wilderness.
Given the immediate proximity of the sanctuary to this long stretch of duck shooting terrain it is hard to conceive of a more classic example of cognitive dissonance. With the advent of duck shooting season the reality of this disjunct takes centre stage as the sound of gunshots thunder across the Poraiti end of the estuary. It’s not clear how the birds seeking sanctuary in this internationally significant location are to know which side of the line is safe from humans. Everything the placards tell us about the need to protect them becomes meaningless in the context.
As the Terra Nature Foundation points out, there are three species of native ducks that the antiquated Wildlife Act of 1953 allows to be legally shot. This needs addressing at government level. On a local level the Ahuriri sanctuary could do much to protect these birds by increasing its reach to include the entire lagoon catchment area stretching around the hills from Westshore to Bay View.
To provide complete sanctuary status for the plant and animal life in this unique water environment would ensure that the excellent work done at the city end of the estuary by environmental groups and by DoC can be extended. The practice of duck shooting has no place in this context. The effect this unnatural onslaught has on the subsequent life and breeding habits of protected native species is yet to be studied.
In a recent report, SAFE (Save Animals From Exploitation) foreground the dangers posed to all aquatic New Zealand birdlife through the duck shooting season and estimate that of the 1 million water fowl shot annually through this time 200,000 birds are left maimed and injured. Hundreds of amateur shooters (some as young as 10) practise their shooting skills on living birds with no actual monitoring of the results while ducks flying slightly out of range can still be hit by one of the hundreds of tiny metal pellets that cascade across the sky when gunshot fires.
Whilst providing world leadership in conservation, any move to extend the sanctuary for birdlife to the inner reaches of the Ahuriri Estuary would provide a much needed reprieve for these valuable life forms. The estuarine environment of Ahuriri is already identified as paramount to the region, so protecting it in its entirety, along with its unique wildlife, makes perfect sense.
As climate change and urban expansion threaten the habitat of New Zealand’s native flora and fauna generally, the need for sanctuaries such as this on both a national and planetary level is urgent.
As the estuary is also home to many endangered birds the need for measures to protect it are paramount.
is an environmentalist and a concerned local citizen who does research in this area.
Cyclists enjoy the Ahuriri Estuary.