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My 5 point Waitemata Plan

Posted by on January 28th, 2014

Four days, bobbing around in the water, buffeted by the wind and the swell,  gave me time to think about what the harbour means to me. As a kid while our car crossed the harbour bridge I looked down at what seemed a massive stretch of water. Later I came to love taking the Devonport ferry to drink at the Masonic or wander round North Head enjoying what surely must be one of the city’s best views. And now living in Te Atatu I take my kayak out and catch snapper in the upper reaches.

I decided it is more than just a place to swim and fish and sail and paddle and motor around. More than a port or a collection of shipping routes. The harbour with all its beauty and changing moods is as much a part of our mental geography as the buildings and streets and volcanoes. It is part of who we are as Aucklanders.

So why this desire to clean it up, and repair the damage and pollution inflicted by decades of development and neglect?  If the harbour is part of who we are, then surely we want to pass it on to our grandchildren in good shape: not silted up, contaminated, lifeless and unsafe for swimming.  But I keep coming back to Len Brown’s liveable city which has become the measuring stick.

What could be more liveable than going down to Devonport wharf and catching whitebait as our grandparents’ generation did? Or swimming at city beaches and knowing you won’t pick up a gastro bug even after heavy rains? Or an 8 year old catching koura in the Le Roys stream at Little Shoal Bay? Or the kids of Massey being able to swim in the Manutewhau stream without picking up ear infections? Or Ngati Whatua being able to pick a feed of pipis at Okahu Bay as did generations before?

So what to do about it? Here’s my 5 point plan for the Waitemata, cobbled together while paddling:

1. Auckland Council should roll out the world-acclaimed Project Twin Streams, developed by the old Waitakere City Council, to mobilise the community to clean up streams, restore native habitat, and reduce harmful run-off.

2. Local and central government should increase funding to community environment programmes like Sustainable Coastlines and the Kaipatiki Project, engaging the community in habitat restoration, raising public awareness and changing behaviours.

3. Auckland Council should do an audit of storm and wastewater infrastructure and plan the investments needed so the system can cope with a million extra people in the next 30-40 years without breaking down and polluting the harbour. Start by fixing all the sewerage leaks entering waterways around the harbour.

4. Shipping companies using the Port of Auckland should strictly adhere to the new 14 km/h speed limit to reduce the Bryde’s whales being killed by ship strike. If the companies don’t play ball, the speed limit should be regulated.

5. The parties in the Hauraki Gulf Forum should agree to 10% of the gulf to be made Marine Reserves, then to be legislated by the government. This will allow marine life to regenerate, and ecosystems to be restored.

The week finished with a morning out on the Gulf with Explore the whale watching people. The boat was full of high school students finishing up a week long summer camp on marine science, and some of the scientists and advocates from the Hauraki Gulf Forum.  It was a blissful few hours out on the water, sharing it with the Gulf’s advocates of today and tomorrow.

Thanks for following my trail around the Watemata. I’m grateful to all the good people we met along the way, my various paddling buddies, Mels for logistics and support, and of course Ferg’s.

Photos: Olivia Baber, Auckland Council

Turning back time at Okahu Bay

Posted by on January 26th, 2014

One of the stand-out moments of my kayak trip around the Waitemata was our stop in Okahu Bay to meet up with Ngati Whatua.  Their ambitious plans to clean up the Bay and restore it to health evoke the spirit of so many of the projects we visited.

Back in 1912 the City Council built an outfall that pumped raw sewerage onto Ngati Whatua’s shellfish beds at Okahu Bay. A 2.5m-high concrete pipe ran the length of the foreshore leading to the outfall, blocking the papakainga which at that time could only be reached by boat. The pipeline also blocked the stream and turned the village into a swamp.

It wasn’t the only such crime. In 1952 authorities forcibly removed the hapu from their homes at Okahu Bay. The marae and houses were burnt to the ground in order to get rid of an “eyesore” before the Queen’s visit. These events and more are well written up in the Waitangi Tribunal’s reports on Ngati Whatua’s successful settlement claim.

Today Ngati Whatua of Orakei are in post-settlement mode. They are landlords, investors and developers, charting a new pathway for the hapu. But the Bay, such a central and important part of Ngati Whatua’s sense of place, is degraded and lifeless.  The mussel beds are long gone. Pipis and cockles, plentiful a few decades back, are almost non-existent. Water quality is poor.

Enter Richelle Kahui-McConnell who manages the Okahu catchment ecological restoration plan. Richelle began researching the bay while studying for a bachelor of resource management at Unitec in 2007.

“For years Ngati Whatua had been saying the bay has been under pressure. It was losing its mauri (life force) and that it was making people sick.”

Richelle began an annual survey of shellfish, now carried out by students from the local school, and has established an internship programme with Auckland University’s engineering school to test water quality. Results showed high levels of sedimentation, with zinc and copper contamination.

The hapu have big plans. They want to restore the Bay’s catchment, “daylighting” streams that are now buried in concrete pipes and culverts, re-establishing wetlands and planting natives.  It is the only way to properly filter the stormwater before it enters the sea, and will re-establish habitat for native fish and other species.

They are working with the manager of the nearby marina with the aim of reducing pollution from anti-fouling used on boat hulls.

The hope is that by cleaning up the water quality and reducing the sediment, the pipis and cockles will come back.  They even want to re-seed the mussel beds.

Water you can swim in with confidence. Abundant shellfish that are safe to eat. It’s restoring Ngati Whatua’s taonga tarnished by 170 years of colonisation and urbanisation. But I think it is a vision all Aucklanders can share.

Donna Tamaariki of Ngati Whatua, PT, and Richelle Kahui-McConnell at Okahu Bay.

Kayakers 0: Weather 1

Posted by on January 23rd, 2014

We finished the trip today at the Manutewhau stream in Massey, with Marnie Prickett of Auckland Council’s freshwater testing programme Waicare. The Manutewhau rises near Westgate and enters the harbour near the mouth of Henderson Creek. It is a little known gem. A beautiful patch of remnant bush, and a terraced stream with pools much loved by local kids for swimming. The only trouble is the stream is polluted by sewerage leaks. Marnie got to know the stream when alerted by a local school principal concerned that the kids were picking up infections from swimming in the stream.  Now she takes groups of students there to do water quality testing as a way of raising their environmental awareness.

The Manutewhau is like so many other parts of the Waitemata. It should be treated as a precious remnant of the pre-urban ecosystem but it is wearing decades of pollution and neglect. And now, with large scale residential developments in its catchment, it faces further degradation unless there is adequate investment in sewerage and stormwater infrastructure.

Earlier in the day we visited the Kaipatiki Project in Birkenhead. It began 15 years ago as a volunteer effort to clean up and restore the Kaipatiki stream. Since then with the help of thousands of volunteers they have restored 70 ha of native bush on the Shore. They have their own native plant nursery and grow 20,000 plants a year. Their work has evolved and now they do a lot of public education work, over the last 12 months working with schools, kindergartens, and adult learners, teaching around 4,000 people about waste minimisation, composting and worm-farming and sustainability. It is real grassroots environmentalism. Very inspiring.

We also got a briefing from Drew Lohrer of NIWA about their work on invasive species, the ongoing battle to keep out harmful species that come here on the hulls and in the bilge water of foreign ships. As our major international port Auckland gets more than its fair share of unwelcome visitors, like the Japanese paddle crab. Many of these invasive species can tolerate highly polluted conditions and therefore out compete our native species in the degraded environment of the harbour, particularly where sedimentation is a major issue.. We then met with Marcus Hermann of Auckland Council’s Safeswim water quality testing programme. They are the people who put the signs up when a beach has been found to be unsafe for swimming. Check out the latest results here.

The visits were great. But the paddling today was tough. With my mates Chris Cooper and Michael Baker, we paddled for two hours from Little Shoal Bay in strong head winds and a choppy sea.  We beached at Island Bay, Beach Haven and travelled the rest of the day in my big red waka on wheels. Live to fight another day. Tomorrow, we are out on the Gulf watching whales and dolphins with a bunch of high school students doing a summer camp on marine science and some of the movers and shakers of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Forum.

I want to thank Ian Ferguson of Ferg’s Kayaks in Okahu Bay again for supporting this project. Ian and his staff were great to deal with, and the gear was excellent.

More photos here.

Day Three

Posted by on January 22nd, 2014

I’m knackered. Five hours’ paddling, mostly against a headwind and at times bumpy water. My hands, arms and upper body are all feeling it.

But what a stunning day in the water: from the Tamaki Estuary, along the eastern bays past Karaka Bay, St Heliers, Kohimarama and Mission Bay to Okahu Bay, across the channel to Devonport, then past the naval base and Stanley Point, around the Bayswater Marina, and across Shoal Bay to Tuff Crater just east of the Onewa interchange on State Highway One. A visit there with the Forest and Bird Group who have been restoring Tuff Crater (more on that below), then down the Harbour Bridge, under the bridge, and finish the day at Little Shoal Bay.

A spectacular day. In a kayak you are so low in the water, so exposed to the elements, and out in the middle of the harbour you see the city from a different perspective. Views you don’t normally see.

Today I paddled with Tony Dunlop who I got to know when he stood for Labour back in 2005. He is on the board of Forest & Bird, and active in Coal Action. We got to talk politics and the environment, when we weren’t focused on battling the wind and the swell.

Three great visits today. The first was at the Tamaki Estuary, with Moana Tamaariki of Ngati Whatua, Colin Percy from Friends of Tahuna Torea reserve, and Jim Sinclair of the Tamaki Estuary Protection Society.  Colin was one of a group who fought a Council proposal to turn the  spit and wetland into a rubbish dump back in the early 1970s. For the last 40 years they have weeded, planted natives, laid tracks, and turned what was once a neglected wasteland into a thriving ecosystem. We walked through a pohutukawa grove with 20 m high trees. Colin and his friends planted it 40 years ago. The group are part of a Tamaki Estuary Forum which brings together a collection of community groups and Auckland Council local boards who are working to clean up the estuary, improve its current dodgy water quality and restore native habitat.

The second was at Tuff Crater in Northcote. We pulled up the kayaks next to the motorway that leads to the Harbour Bridge, and crossed on the footbridge. Tuff Crater is a an old volcanic crater, filled mostly with mangroves. I guarantee 90% of motorists on the motorway don’t even know it exists. We met Anne Denny of the local Forest and Bird group who have spent 14 years weeding and are well on the way to planting the entire crater walls with natives. They have built a path that is popular with locals. Amazing that this most unprepossessing of places – a mangrove swamp next to an eight lane motorway – has been reclaimed by this local group and transformed into something special. On the other side of the motorway lives a colony of threatened dotterels.

We finished up at Little Shoal Bay where Northcote College science teacher Dr Kit Hustler has devoted several years to monitoring native fish stocks in the stream that runs through Le Roy’s Bush which runs from the Birkenhead shops down to the harbour. The lower reaches of the stream have been gummed up with sedimentation. They are fetid and swampy with the unmistakeable smell of sewerage in the air.  Kit however has identified seven species of native fish in the river. It is extraordinary that in such a degraded environment the fish somehow survive.  The stream is a classic of our urban environment – a waterway wrecked by sedimentation caused by urban development, contaminants from run off, and leaking sewerage systems. Its flow into the city has been blocked by reclamation. Kit brings his students here to study the fish and their habitat, and works with local volunteers to clean up the bush and the stream and encourage the community to take care of it.

Whitebait, the juveniles of these native fish, turn up in the creek from time to time. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the waterway was cleaned up and restored so locals could catch a feed of whitebait at the rivermouth?

Three visits. Each of them local conservation heroes, not waiting for anyone to do it for them or give them permission. Getting on and making a difference.

More pics on facebook.  Thanks again to Ferg’s Kayaks for supporting this project. And Mels for doing logistics so capably.

First day’s paddling

Posted by on January 20th, 2014

Day one of my four day kayak journey around the Waitemata harbour and I am struck by how much life we encounter in just a few hours paddling: oystercatchers watching as we head off from Te Atatu Peninsula, a flock of Caspian terns take off and fly overhead, a fernbird calls at close range in the Te Atatu Orangihina wetland, a shag watches us as we paddle towards it and dives as we approach, a large group of black swans on Meola Reef take off like B52s, a baby flounder swims past (Rob thinks it fell out of the sky, out of the beak of a careless bird? I worry he might be hallucinating), and nesting black back gulls curse us overhead as we skirt along the Westhaven breakwater.

After only a day it feels like my senses have been immersed in the harbour. The endless shades of grey and green, the taste of salt water, surrounded by the tide below and the rain above, and the muscle ache of paddling into the wind.

Today’s paddling buddy was Rob Mouldey, fellow Te Atatu resident who works in Auckland Council’s biosecurity team. He and I fought a tactical battle with the weather, driving the stretch between Te Atatu’s Harbourview wetland and Pt Chevalier’s Meola Reef. It just didn’t seem like a good call to spend three hours paddling across the bay into a headwind. Luckily the Pt Chev-Herne Bay stretch was sheltered and calmer. But as we paddled under the Bridge towards that beer at North Wharf it got pretty choppy.

We met representatives of two tribes who will feature prominently in the next few days: conservation volunteers, and scientists.  The first was Jeremy Painting who is doing a great job looking after the amazing Orangihina-Harbourview wetland on Te Atatu Peninsula’s eastern flank. It is home to the fernbird, and the banded rail. Which is quite something: the fernbird is considered at risk, the banded rail is uncommon and here they are in the middle of the city. Jeremy, with the help of the local Forest & Bird group has been trapping the rats and stoats that prey on the birds. Feral cats are a problem, as are locals who let their dogs off the leash. The volunteers have also been planting, converting kikuyu grass back to native scrub.

Jeremy seems to know the fernbirds almost by name. When one called quite close to his he whipped out his smartphone and played the call of the bird’s neighbour! Apparently it usually brings him in. There are four breeding pairs in the reserve and each has their own territory, which strangely enough overlaps with the old farm paddocks that used to be there.

Across the bay at Meola Reef we met Carolyn Lundquist, a marine ecologist for NIWA who is studying the regeneration of seagrass. The seagrass declined rapidly over the last 50 years of the twentieth century but now interestingly it is making a comeback. Digital analysis of aerial photographs suggests it might be doubling in area annually. It is all the more counter-intuitive because the water coming out of Meola Creek is not that great. The beach here is permanently designated not fit for swimming. One theory is the sediment that poured into the Waitemata as a result of deforestation and urban development killed off the seagrass. Maybe it’s regeneration means the sedimentation is reducing?

These two,  Jeremy and Carolyn, represent the two key ingredients of change if we are to restore the harbour and the gulf to health.  Community support for conservation and treating the Hauraki Gulf as a real national park. And the science needed so we can understand the complex ecology of the gulf and develop good policy. More on that as the journey continues.

Thanks to Ferg’s Kayaks for supporting this project. And Mels for support and logistics.

More pics here.

Paddling the Waitemata

Posted by on January 19th, 2014

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, I’m pushing the boat out. I’m heading off on a 50 km four day kayak journey around the Waitemata Harbour.

It is part-homage to this amazing stretch of water we live next to. It is a thing of beauty, an extraordinary playground where we swim, fish, sail, and paddle right in the heart of this country’s biggest city.

The trip is also an investigation into the declining ecological health of the harbour.

The Waitemata, and the wider Hauraki Gulf, are facing big challenges from urban development. Fish stocks in general have not recovered from decades of plunder. Shellfish populations are under threat. Toxic metals from run-off are contaminating estuaries. Invasive species are on the increase. And too many of our beaches are unsafe to swim after heavy rain because of sewerage and storm water overflow.

Bigger challenges loom. With Auckland expected to grow by another million people in the next few decades there will be more and more residential development on coastal land. As well as that, the city’s creaking sewerage and storm water system will find it hard to cope with planned urban intensification without major investment. The risk is more pollution in our harbour.

I’ve been inspired by the work of the Hauraki Gulf Forum – a group of scientists, local government, iwi, and conservation advocates – who publish the State of our Gulf report. It is sobering reading but they make a powerful case backed by science that we should take action to stop the environmental degradation and repair the damage.

Each day this week I am going to be meeting marine scientists and visiting local conservation projects. I want to learn more about what is happening to the ecology of the harbour, and what we can do to clean it up and restore it to health for future generations.

Tomorrow at 9.30am I am going to head off from Te Atatu Peninsula, in my electorate. In the course of the week, and in the company of friends paddling with me, we will head east via Pollen Island and Meola Reef, around the western bays to the city, skirting the downtown wharves and on to Okahu Bay. We will follow the eastern bays all the way out to the Tamaki Estuary, and then back across the channel to Devonport. Then we run west along the North Shore, under the Harbour Bridge, around Kauri Point, up Kaipatiki Creek for a side trip, and then out to Hobsonville in the North West before cutting back to home in Te Atatu. As long as the threatened cyclone doesn’t get in the way, it should be epic.

I can’t wait.

(I will post updates on facebook and twitter, and blog here each night.)

Big thanks to Ferg’s Kayaks for supporting this project.

Conservation Week 2013

Posted by on September 9th, 2013

To mark Conservation Week 2013, I’ve compiled a list of what the Labour whānau has achieved…

Filed under: conservation
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And they want to put a tunnel here??

Posted by on April 1st, 2013

I was in Queenstown over Easter and had arranged to meet with people in Glenorchy who are opposed to the proposal to put a tunnel through from the Dart River to Milford, while I was there. So on Easter Saturday afternoon, I turned up to meet the committee organising the opposition and then there was a public meeting after that.

I hardly expected anyone to turn up, but they started to pour in the door just before 3pm. Some people’s apologies were given because they had gone away or had haymaking to finish (where do you go for a weekend when you live in paradise?). Even Rob Munro (ex-Nat MP for Invercargill) turned up, but he left early – once he had determined how the meeting was going perhaps?

After the meeting, at which  just EVERYONE there was vehemently opposed to the proposed tunnel, I was taken up to the start of the Routeburn track, where the mouth of the tunnel would be located.

Now, I love Central Otago and am familiar with large parts of it, but I had never driven up to Glenorchy from Queenstown. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It is pristine wilderness, protected as a World Heritage Park recognised by UNESCO. There was more LOTR scenery than you could shake a stick at. I am now absolutely committed to walking the Routeburn next season. Have a look at the Bear Grylls safety video AirNZ is using now in its Boeings and see if you think the environment would be enhanced by a tunnel.

This government’s proposals for the environment are truly scary – just have a look at the proposals for the second round of RMA ‘reforms’ and the water proposals. Nick Smith is going to make the decision about the Dart tunnel himself, which he can do. Do you think he will remember to do what his remit is as Minister of Conservation – to protect the environment? Does it make any sense at all to put a tunnel here??



Resolve is building to save our trees

Posted by on March 1st, 2013


Titirangi Ratepayers and Residents Association public meeting, 21 February 2013.

Resolve is really building in West Auckland to stop National’s chainsaw massacre in the Waitakere Ranges.

Te Atatū Labour MP Phil Twyford, Labour’s Environment spokesperson Maryan Street, Councillors, Local Board representatives and ratepayers groups are all backing the community’s determination to save our trees – which together we surely will.

Following my earlier post I’ve had a few requests for copies of the speech I gave at the recent local meeting to save our trees. So I’ve popped it on my website here.

David Cunliffe’s speech to the Titirangi Ratepayers and Residents Association – Saving our trees (again) – 21 February 2013

Here’s wishing Red Alert readers the chance to enjoy some of New Zealand’s great outdoors with family and friends this weekend.

Moving on to the next challenge

Posted by on February 25th, 2013

I have enjoyed the Health portfolio. It is huge and arguably, it takes longer than one year to get around and establish networks. I have been doing that in the past year and I am grateful to all those who were prepared to engage intelligently and repeatedly with me. I have been pleased to stick up for diabetics in the disastrous changeover to the Care Sens blood glucose meters. It was a mistake and should be rescinded. It affects the way people manage their diabetes and directly impacts their well being, especially for Type 1 diabetics.

I have also made a running on the increase in prescription charges, changes to pharmacists’ contracts with the DHBs, and the burden of implementation of changes falling on local pharmacies. This sector is in chaos and Tony Ryall continues to pretend that there is nothing to see here. Shelves full of uncollected prescriptions would say otherwise. If people can’t afford medicines, and some clearly can’t, we are only going to see additional hospitalisations further town the track.  This isn’t rocket science – just medical science.

But now I take up a new challenge with the Environment portfolio.  And there are challenges aplenty.  We would all love our myth of being 100% pure to become fact again but we need aggressive leadership in this area if that is ever to happen. From our waterways to our air quality, and much more besides, there is much to do to restore our natural environment and to protect it for future generations.  I look forward to that challenge.

Thanks again to all you good health folk for working with me over the last year.  Keep up the good work!

Saving West Auckland’s trees (again and again and again)

Posted by on February 22nd, 2013


Titirangi Ratepayers and Residents Association public meeting, 21 February 2013.

Last night Te Atatū Labour MP Phil Twyford and I joined a packed public meeting hosted by the Titirangi Ratepayers and Residents Association in my New Lynn electorate.

For too many attendees this was a groundhog day event.

Because yet again Westies are being forced to stand up to a Wellington-led move to abolish tree protection rules in the Waitakere Ranges. It really is crazy. But it seems that destroying West Auckland’s natural heritage has become a National Party obsession.

Environment Minister Amy Adams’ so-called Resource Management Reform Bill is a very poorly drafted piece of law. I reckon it’s deliberate, because when you untangle the jargon it’s nothing but a recipe for a chainsaw massacre.

Well West Aucklanders have seen all this before. We love our patch, we were staunch against Wellington’s chainsaws every other time – and last night the public meeting unanimously voted that we’ll be staunch against them now.

The National Government could save themselves one heck of a headache (and avoid underestimating the West Auckland community again) by simply excluding the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area from part 12 of Adams’ Bill.

But if National uses its numbers on behalf of the Property Council to push the chainsaw massacre through, then locals are determined this will not be the end of the story.

With the support of Auckland’s Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, Councillor Sandra Coney, Waitakere Ranges Local Board Chair Denise Yates and member Greg Presland, the Ratepayers have agreed we will propose to Auckland Council a Local Bill to revisit this attack.

Waitakere is our place. The rainforest in the Ranges is our children’s and their children’s natural heritage.

With shared resolve, and with history on our side, Westies will certainly save our trees again.

Upper Nihotupu Reservoir in the beautiful Waitakere Ranges.


It’s a wrap

Posted by on January 19th, 2013

We made it to the end. 77 km. Wowed by the Waitaks. The Hillary Trail is the equal of almost any tramp I can think of.  The bush, the beaches, and the to-die-for coastal views, including today’s final cliff top walk from Bethells to Muriwai.

We have looked at a lot of kauri trees. Some magnificent. Some beautiful. Too many diseased and dying.

We have seen the future for the northern bush if we don’t get to grips with kauri dieback and it ain’t pretty.

For me the heroes of the last week have been the scientists who have walked with us, explaining their work and what is known and not known.

I share their view that if we don’t get a better understanding of the disease we don’t stand a chance of stopping it.

But I’m a politician. I see political will as the scarce commodity here. Unless this Government commits funding to continue the work of the kauri dieback programme, then the kauri doesn’t stand a chance.

To get them to that point we have to make them understand that while it is not a threat to pine trees nor kiwifruit, phytophthora taxon agathis is killing the kauri and although it might be hard to put a dollar value on that, it is nevertheless something New Zealanders care deeply about.

More to come on this. I will continue to add my voice to those scientists, environmentalists, iwi, and other concerned Kiwis who won’t let this issue go.

In the meantime I want to thank all those who have walked with us, supported, reported, and helped turn a tramp into a campaign: Fred and Marlene Holloway, Ngarimu Blair, Ross Duder, Chris McBride, Viv van der Wal, Lika, Joseph, Jasper, Jack and Jake, Ian Horner, Ellena Hough, Stacey Hill, Nick Waipara, Simon Randall, Bruce Burns, Sarah Wyse, Monique Wheat, Marnie and Alison at Whatipu Lodge, Lindy Harvey, Cheryl Krull, Cr Sandra Coney, Neville Winter and Debi Jacka from Piha Surf Club, Sir Bob Harvey, John Edgar, Kubi Witten-Hannah, Ted Scott, Karekare Surf Club, Stephen Bell and all the western Rangers, Waitangi Woods, Grant Hewison, Tracy Dalton, Alistair Hall, Jim Wheeler, Moana Maniapoto and Toby Mills, Barb Erin and Ian from Muriwai, John Chapman, my assistant Mels Barton who was the first person to tell me about kauri dieback, my son Harry, niece Manu and her friend Sarah who walked with me, and my wife Jo for doing logistics and generally being wonderful.


The future…if we don’t act

Posted by on January 18th, 2013

Day 4 of the Hillary Trail and we walk up the Maungaroa Ridge which sits above Piha. I’m with Dr Nick Waipara who is Auckland Council’s chief scientist on biosecurity matters. Nick is one of the key figures in the fight against kauri dieback and has brought me here to show  me the site where he and others first identified the disease.

The well being I feel from a great lunch at the surf club and a classic white water swim at Piha drains away as we walk through this stand of dead and dying trees. It is a kauri graveyard. The pathogen has cut a swathe along the ridge, infecting and killing 100 year old rickers and 10 year old saplings.

The forest floor is cluttered with fallen diseased trunks. Ghost trees silhouette against the sky.

We are looking at the future.

Unless we can find a way of stopping the disease in its tracks this is what the kauri forests will all come to look like.

Dr Nick Waipara tell us why the Maungaroa Ridge site is so important.

My take on how I felt on top of Maugaroa Ridge.

Day 4 – Set off from Karekare with amazing cliff top views as we head to Piha. The Piha Surf Club welcomed us with a slap up lunch (thanks Neville) which we shared with journalist James Ireland, Auckland Councillor Sandra Coney who is a great fighter for the Waitakeres, and Cheryl Krull from Auckland Uni whose PhD included work on how pigs are spreading dieback in the ranges. After the side trip to Maungaroa, we then walked through a stunning nikau forest and up to the Anawhata Craw campground.

Day 5 – Joined by Waitangi Woods the lead iwi rep on the kauri dieback programme, Stacey Hill who does comms and public engagement for the programme, my mate Tracy Dalton, my assistant Mels Barton, my niece Manu and her friend Sarah, and Alistair Hall the Editor of Wilderness magazine. An easy gentle walk across undulating country, regenerating forest with quite a few young and mostly healthy kauri, although also some dead and diseased along the ridge. Highlight was a swim in the waterfall and pools near Lake Wainamu. Destination Te Henga, Bethells Beach. Tomorrow the final leg through to Muriwai.

Scrub, spray and walk away

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

scrub, spray and walk away

Monique Wheat & Simon Randall spraying trigene disinfectant. Photo: Harry Twyford

Head of Biosecurity at Auckland Council Jack Craw is one of the key figures in the hardy band of scientists, rangers and council workers leading the fight against kauri dieback. He describes kauri dieback as the HIV/AIDS of the tree world.

It might sound odd at first to compare AIDS to a disease that is killing trees but it is not a bad analogy. First, there is no known cure. Second, the best way to stop the spread of the disease is to change our behaviours that act as the disease vector.

The lethal spores of PTA (phytophthora taxon agathis) are spread in the soil. We humans, carrying infected soil on our tramping boots, are the main vector.

So one of the main approaches of the disease management work has been to get walkers to scrub the soles of their boots, and spray them with a disinfectant called trigene, at special stations set up throughout the affected areas.

Alarmingly it has been an uphill battle to get people to  follow the signs and scrub and spray. Video cameras at the stations revealed only 25% of trampers actually doing the scrub and spray routine.

Short of closing the forests, getting people to scrub and spray is the best immediate hope for saving kauri.

Day 3 – Today my son Harry and I walked with Monique Wheat, a biologist working for the kauri dieback programme and researching where in the wood PTA affects the kauri. This is important because we need to understand the risk of spreading the disease from the timber of felled infected trees.

Today we walked from Whatipu over to Pararaha Valley, stopped for a swim in the Pararaha stream, and then walked over Zion Hill to Karekare where members of the surf club met us with tea and scones. Tomorrow we walk from Karekare to Anawhata.


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5 cool facts about kauri

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

Hillary Trail day 2

Cool facts on kauri from Bruce Burns and Sarah Wyse on day 2, accompanied by Harry Twyford and Simon Randall. Photo by Mels Barton

1. All plants need nitrogen but kauri can thrive on less than almost any other. They have an amazing ability to do well in poor soil. That is not to say they like infertile soil. In fact there is a myth that kauri are slow growers. Planted in rich soil in good conditions kauri can grow very fast.

2. Kauri forest accumulates biomass faster than most forests anywhere in the world. It grows more wood – bigger trees and more of them.

3. The kauri ecosystem is the most diverse forest type in New Zealand. Kauri forest includes around 70 plant species in a 400 sq m plot. Compare that with South Island mountain beech which has only 2-3 species. This has implications for kauri dieback because if we lose the kauri then the bush will become a lot more homogenous and less interesting.

4. The kauri has powerful anti-competitive strategies that allow it to dominate  other species. Kauri leaves and bark fall to the ground producing a litter that is acidic, slow to break down, and low in nutrients, making it hard for other species to compete in the same space.

5. The kauri has evolved a continuous self-pruning mechanism. The lower branches continually drop off leaving the tree with a smooth trunk and timber without knots. This is what made kauri so prized by the British navy for masts in the early 1800s. Missionary Samuel Marsden organised for ships that had transported convicts to Australia to call by New Zealand to pick up masts to take back to Britain.

6. Northern Maori used to chew kauri gum as an aphrodisiac, a natural Kiwi viagra. (I got this from a good source; unverified but in my view worth including).

Day 2 on the trail – Several hours walking from Huia to Mt Donald McLean with Bruce Burns who is senior lecturer in plant ecology at Auckland University, and PhD candidate Sarah Wyse who is doing her thesis on kauri ecosystems. It was a rare privilege to walk in the bush with people who know so much about it.  Then we walked the Omanawanui Trail down to Whatipu – a three hour gutbuster with stunning views across the Manukau heads and out to the bar. Tomorrow we walk from Whatipu to Karekare.

view to Whatipu

Still a way to go to Whatipu from the Puriri Ridge Track. Photo: Mels Barton

Manukau Heads

Manukau Heads from the Omanawanui Track. Photo: Mels Barton

What we don’t know

Posted by on January 14th, 2013


Phil Twyford Hillary Trail day 1

Phil Twyford, Simon Randall and Ngarimu Blair setting off on the Hillary Trail

Walking the first leg of the Hillary Trail today between Arataki Visitor Centre and Huia, I was struck by how little we know about Phytophthera taxon agathis, the pathogen that is killing kauri trees.

I can recite what we don’t know: we don’t know where it came from, we don’t know when it arrived, we don’t know exactly how it kills trees and we don’t know how to fight it.

A group of half a dozen scientists have been working on the disease for the past few years with funding support from government. A handful of scientists trying to deal with a largely unknown organism that is wiping out one of New Zealand’s most iconic species.

Most of the paltry $6 million spent over the last five years went on putting up signs and encouraging trampers to scrub the bottom of their boots, which is important to do, but if this was a biosecurity threat to our kiwifruit or pine plantations (PSA or painted apple moth) then you can bet ten times that amount would have been invested in the science.

Only science has any chance of saving the kauri.

It is important that we try to understand the disease, and what we can do about it. Plant pathologists like Ian Horner and Ellena Hough were out today in the bush above Huia monitoring whether kauri infected with PTA respond to having phosphite injected into their trunks.

Horner and Hough have day jobs with Plant and Food trying to save the kiwifruit industry from PSA. Saving kauri is a sideline for them, and today they are testing whether the phosphite they injected into 50-100 year old sick kauri a year ago has had any positive effect. It is an approach that works well with avocado trees infected with a similar pathogen to the one that is plaguing kauri.

Early results are inconclusive, but Horner concedes that even in the best case scenario, injecting phosphite is not a fix. Any beneficial effect would be temporary, only as long as the phosphite remained in the tree’s system. It might help save an iconic tree, or one treasured by a private landowner, but it is not going to save our forests.

The research must go on. The Government’s lack of commitment to extending the funding for the kauri dieback work beyond mid-2014 puts a question mark over this vital work. It is only a few million dollars a year. The survival of kauri as a species is at stake.

It has been a great start to the Hillary Trail. We had a send off from friends, park rangers and residents of the Waitakeres, with a karakia by kaumatua Fred Holloway. Thanks to my co-walkers Ngarimu Blair of Ngati Whatua, Ross Duder of Friends of Regional Parks and Simon Randall local body politician who did his Masters on Phytophtheras in the Waitakere Ranges.

Tomorrow we walk to Whatipu.

Hillary Trail send off

Send-off at Arataki

Ian Horner

Scientist Ian Horner injecting phosphite into kauri at Huia

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die?

Posted by on January 14th, 2013

Over the next six days I am walking the Hillary Trail, 70 km through Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. I have wanted to do it for a long time but it is more than just a summer tramp. I am doing it now to raise awareness of the disease that is killing one of our most cherished species, the kauri.

The killer is PTA phytophthora taxon agathis a.k.a. kauri dieback.  Eleven percent of the kauri in the Waitakeres are dead or dying because of it, although the number is probably much higher because the disease has a long incubation period with no symptoms. The disease is spreading and the trees in the Waipoua and Trounson parks in Northland are so badly infected the proposal for a kauri national park in the north has been scuppered.

Scientists I have spoken to say that unless progress is made managing or stopping the disease then it is not too much of a stretch to say the species could be extinct within decades.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that there is a big question mark over continued funding for this work.

The scientific research, and the public awareness programme which encourages walkers to scrub and spray their boots at stations on the tracks, has cost about $6 million over the last five years. That funding runs out mid-2014, and the Ministry of Primary Industries who funded most of it, now say they will not take another budget bid to Cabinet. (See TV3’s report here.)

So do they want Councils to fund it? Should we run a cake stall? I am staggered the Government would spend $85 million fighting painted apple moth because it was a threat to pine trees but can’t find a few million bucks to save the kauri.

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die before they take this disease seriously?

As I walk the Hillary Trail over the next few days with scientists and researchers and park rangers who are working on this crisis, I expect it will be bitter sweet. The Hillary Trail is a spectacular walk but instead of stopping to admire the stunning kauri that are a feature of the Waitakeres, we are likely to be stopping to examine dead and dying kauri, and checking the extent of the disease’s spread.

I will be posting updates here and on facebook and twitter, and doing everything I can to highlight the need for the Government to commit the funding needed to continue the scientific research and management of the disease.

Our generation doesn’t want the kauri to die out on our watch, does it?

Media Release & Submission to MAF re Maui’s Dolphins

Posted by on April 10th, 2012

Here is my recent media release and you can check out my submission to MAF regarding Maui’s Dolphins:

Global eyes on Government over dolphin response

Media Statement 10 April 2012

The Government’s response to the possible extinction of the Maui’s dolphin will be under worldwide scrutiny, Labour’s Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson has warned.

“With only 55 Maui dolphins in existence we cannot – as a developed country – allow inaction to be the cause of their extinction.

“There’s a huge win/win opportunity for ministers Kate Wilkinson and David Carter here. Not only should we be doing everything possible to save the species, but we should also be leading the world by moving our fishing industry to sustainable fishing methods,” Ruth Dyson said.

“We know that consumers are become more discerning – wanting to know how and where food is made. We could market sustainably caught fish internationally to huge benefit to our economy.

“And the by-catch of sustainable fishing practices would be saving the dolphin, unlike the current method, which is killing them.”

Ms Dyson, who, in a written submission to MAF has called for a comprehensive monitoring programme to help protect the Maui’s dolphin and an extension to a proposed set net ban, says the government can no longer close its eyes to the issue.

“The world is looking on. The Ministers have, to date, appeared cowed and compliant.

“They must strengthen their resolve to do the best for both the dolphins and the fishing industry, as well as New Zealand’s international reputation,” Ruth Dyson said.

Submissions on the MAF consultation close at 4pm Wednesday 11 April 2012 with parallel consultation on a DOC proposal closing the following week.

Rena and Leadership

Posted by on October 16th, 2011

When I was doing Vote Chat with Bryce Edwards at Otago University on Friday he raised the good question of the political balancing act that surrounds how opposition political parties respond to a disaster, in this case the Rena. As an Opposition there is the risk that people will see criticism of the government as politicising the situation, being opportunistic etc. Equally part of the role of an Opposition is to hold the government to account, whatever the horrendous circumstances might be.

To get one thing out of the way straight up, no one is saying the Government is to blame for the Rena hitting the reef. I am also sure that John Key, Steven Joyce and Nick Smith are as disturbed as I am by the images of the oil on beaches and the death and injury of wildlife. Every New Zealander will want to see the damage from the accident mitigated and the environment cleaned up. What is a legitimate question though is whether faced with the incident the government showed the leadership that we should expect of them and acted as swiftly and effectively as they should have.

My take is that the government were flat footed and to keen to sheet blame and responsibility elsewhere rather than take the leadership role we want our government to take in times of crisis. Someone I worked with once said that people mostly want the government out of their way when things are going well, but they want them there yesterday when things go wrong. I think National got that wrong in the first few days of the Rena incident.

And criticism of this is not just coming from Labour, but also from people who might normally be described as friends of the government like John Roughan, Paul Holmes and even Matthew Hooten. Here is part of Hooten’s NBR column which is not on-line. (h/t Liberation)

Joyce failed totally to comprehend what the Rena grounding meant to the Bay of Plenty’, and ‘He did not see that, as transport minister and arguably the most powerful figure in the government after Mr Key, his role was to lead and improve the quality of the response, and ensure it was sufficiently empowered and resourced. When he spoke publicly, he demonstrated little empathy with locals, telling them there was no point going to the beach to clean up the oil, saying more was on its way and that it could take years to resolve anyway

Then there is the question of whether the government had done the work over the last three years to have us planned for a disaster like this. There are questions here too, with the freeze on funding for Maritime NZ and the failure to put in place the mechanism that would see more of the costs of dealing with the disaster fall on the ship company and less on you and me.

So, in the face of this disaster, we join with all New Zealanders in wanting to protect our beautiful coastline and all those, human and animal who inhabit it. But we also take our role seriously to raise the question- Where was the leadership?, and in this case it was sadly lacking.

Politics matters to conservation

Posted by on September 14th, 2011

In 2011, Red Alert is doing a few new things. One of them is to introduce you to some confirmed Labour candidates who will do the occasional guest post.

Today’s guest poster is Christine Rose, the candidate for Rodney.

Kokako are one of New Zealand’s most beautiful songbirds. They sing in ‘gently paced, wistful tunes’, with an ‘organ-like song’ that can carry for kilometres. They are distinguished by their dusky grey plumage, their bright blue fleshy wattles and a little black face mask. They skip through the forest more than they fly, and come from an ancient lineage.  But kokako have been pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat loss and predation.

Kokako were once widespread, found in the North and South Islands.  But they are particularly vulnerable because of their poor flying ability, unable to flee from forest destruction to new habitats, and with females on the nest most prone to predation.  One study found only about one chick in 10 nests survives.

In the 1980s there were only about 350 pairs of blue wattled, North Island, kokako left.  Through good pest control and protection of remaining birds, (by volunteers and DoC), the population is now about 750 pairs and the aim of the National Kokako Recovery project is to have 1000 pairs in dispersed locations, by 2020. In Auckland, a small population of mainly male kokako remained in the Hunua Ranges, but they were totally extinct in the Waitakeres.

Over the last few years passionate and hardworking Forest & Bird conservationists have worked with the old Auckland Regional Council and iwi to restore the biodiversity of the Waitakere Ranges to its former glory.  The Waitakere rainforest on the edge of the country’s biggest city covers over 17,000 hectares. More than 2000 hectares is now home to ‘Ark in the Park’ where species are being revived.

Since 2009 24 kokako have been translocated from different parts of the country, returning their melodious song to the forest where once they roamed.  Last year at least three kokako chicks were fledged.  This is a testament to the difference that committed individuals can make to a most  worthy a cause – saving a species.

At our recent celebration to mark Ark in the Park’s successful efforts to save this species, the question was repeatedly asked why we’re seeing cuts to Department of Conservation funding when we have species like this on the brink.  There certainly are amazing DoC workers who devote their lives to kokako and conservation. However, recent retrenchments in conservation budgets show the current government’s priorities lie elsewhere.

That’s another reason why this election is so important.  A huge number of New Zealand’s endemic species are on the global critically endangered list. This is not the right time to cut conservation budgets.  Our species, habitats, forest fragments, are the store of ecological capital, of hope for the future.  Species, and our reputation, depend on our environment. Cuts to conservation budgets can only endanger these further, despite the amazing work of conservationists on the ground.  Extinction is forever.

The South Island kokako, with its orange wattles is now most certainly extinct, and known as ‘the grey ghost’.  How New Zealanders vote at this election, may determine whether our other special species like the North Island kokako, also join the ranks of forest ghosts.

Labour has a great track record working with the environmental sector on species and habitat recovery. That’s why, as a lifelong conservationist, I’m standing for Labour.

Christine Rose served the Rodney area as an elected representative for 15 years between 1995 and 2010. She was Deputy Mayor of the Rodney District Council, and Deputy Chair of the Auckland Regional Council. She chaired various committees including the ARC’s Transport Committee and the Regional Land Transport Committee which led the development of the Regional Transport Strategy.

Christine has degrees in Political Science (with First Class Honours), and Philosophy from Auckland University, where she also taught politics.  She has been a supporter of both Greenpeace and Forest and Bird for over 20 years, serving in various governance roles.
Christine has also led significant environmental campaigns, most notably working with the Labour Government to protect Mauis and Hectors dolphins. She is a strong advocate of sustainable transport for Auckland. In her spare time she is an artist, and tramps, kayaks and cycles.

Filed under: conservation