Cars blamed for poor dotterel breeding season in Ōpōtiki

The Ōpōtiki dotterel had a poor breeding season. Photo / LDR

The lack of consequences for violating regulations restricting vehicle access to beaches in Ōpōtiki District resulted in an unsuccessful breeding year for the New Zealand Dotterel on Ōhiwa beach and spit.

Department of Conservation ranger Mithuna Sothieson gave a presentation to Ōpōtiki District Council this week, showing the effect new regulations regarding vehicle access to beaches have had on shorebirds on the beach and the Ōhiwa Brooch.

She said simply walking 100m to a fishing spot rather than taking a vehicle to the beach could make all the difference to endangered shorebird species.

Although by-laws passed by the council in 2020 had led to the first successful breeding of tūturiwhatu (New Zealand dotterel) in the past six years at the site, a lack of enforcement of the by-law the following year had meant that no chicks had survived during the summer just past.

Sothieson presented a selection of photos taken over an hour over the Christmas and New Year period showing people camping in vehicles, starting fires on the beach, uncontrolled dogs running around and numerous tire tracks.

She also showed a photo of a dead oystercatcher chick lying on the beach taken around the same time.

Ōhiwa Beach and Spit is a site of international significance for tūturiwhatu and other waders and benefits from a significant volunteer contribution to the protection and restoration of the natural environment.

Only a few of the groups that volunteered around the harbor were Upokorehe kaitiaki, Shorebird Volunteers, Bryans Beach Area Community Group, Ōhiwa Reserves Care Group, Ōhiwa Headland Sanctuary Trust, Hurike Care Group and Ruatuna-Pukeruru Care Group.

“There are many more, as you circle the harbour. I’ve calculated that over 1200 volunteer hours have gone into the area, which is pretty good for such small communities.”

Sothieson said these groups appreciated the councils’ support to protect important sites, but it was daunting for the volunteers who put in hours all year to get everything undone over a crucial two-week period during the summer.

“We really see this as being crucial for the survival and success of species like our shorebirds. We do this work all year round and the crucial time is in the summer when we have an increase in visitors to our beaches. It may take just these two weeks and we find ourselves without success.

“I’ve worked at this location for 10 years and what I’ve noticed is that the amount of disturbance that occurs at these sites increases as more and more people come to visit the area, but also as things like four-wheel drive and all-terrain vehicles are becoming more accessible.”

She said there were significant health and safety issues around shared spaces.

“Volunteers can attest that they have to move away from the vehicles because it is very difficult, in terms of visibility, to see what is happening. [on informal vehicle access ways].”

Sothieson said a major deterrent to people flouting the new regulations upon arrival was the six-week period over Christmas and New Years when a security camera was in operation.

“Since then, reduced action has been taken and compliance with regulations has diminished as there are no visible or deterrent consequences for those who continue to use their vehicles on the site. There has been no successful breeding of tūturiwhatu this year.”

She recommended placing bollards at the hotspot as a physical deterrent, as well as signs, as had been done at a similar site under Whakatāne District and continued joint efforts around advocacy and prevention. education as well as maintaining order and enforcing regulations.

“A lot of breaches happen out of hours. It would be really nice for the public to be able to call someone at the council to report breaches.”

The council also heard from Upokorehe kaitiaki Gaylene Kohonui and Sandra Aramoana about the work their group had done around the eastern limits of Ōhiwa Harbor.

“We face so many barriers to doing the mahi there. We try to discourage people from driving on the mudflats, taking their dogs on the mudflats and walking all over the bird sanctuary through education and korero, but it’s not enough. We can’t watch it 24/7. We desperately need awhi (assistance),” Kohonui said.

There had also been violence around the issue of kaitiaki being assaulted, which caused security concerns.

Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer said she understands what the groups are asking for.

“We’ll take things into consideration. We’ll see what we can do to work on the problem together,” she said.

Councilman Louis Rapihana thanked all who did their part to protect the resources and treasure of Ōhiwa, which he said had provided multitudes of food sources for generations.

“It’s sad to hear what’s going on there.”