Plea for big­ger sanc­tu­ary

In­sa­tiable en­gine of progress and an­ti­quated duck shoot­ing laws threaten rare ducks

Hawke's Bay Today - - Opinion - Brid­get Suther­land Brid­get Suther­land

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.

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