Piha CoastCare has, for a long time, been wanting to contribute to local knowledge and understanding of the value of our natural wetlands, and ways in which we can protect and conserve these highly threatened environments. A phrase that echoes from last century was “drain the swamp!” And draining the swamp was seen as a very virtuous activity, designed to make our country more prosperous as dairy farmers moved their cows onto the newly created fertile paddocks. Today swamps are called wetlands, and there is a rapidly expanding understanding of their intrinsic ecological value as well as their role in flood control, enhancing water quality, and as very effective carbon sinks.
Our Wetland Workshop project became a reality when well known and respected ecologist Shona Myers made herself available to come to Piha to lead the workshop on July 26th. The library was well filled with 25 enthusiastic locals and visitors, a testament to both the reputation of our speaker and the growing interest in the subject.
After Shona had given an overview of what makes a wetland, and the vast scale of wetland loss in New Zealand, local Piha guru Jeff McCauley gave us an extraordinary insight into the rare and endangered wetland treasures we have on this part of the Auckland west coast, and specifically here in Piha. His enthusiasm, passion and vast knowledge were truly inspiring.
Despite the cold wet conditions, we then ventured outside and looked at three sites within walking distance of the library.
First the wetlands around the Eel Bridge with a rich variety of wetland plants, which are sadly being invaded with exotic freshwater paspallum for which there is no known cure without destroying the native habitat.
Next stop was the Ministry of Education land up-valley behind the Art Gallery, which was a wetland before being drained for a schools programme. This land is potentially available to the Piha Community if we can demonstrate that it will be used for education purposes. There is wide enthusiasm for this project from groups like the Art Gallery, the Piha Kids Trust and Piha Coastcare Trust. We watch this space with interest as negotiations continue.
Finally a visit to the Garden Road Pond which is a remnant dune lake, similar in origin to the ones at Bethells and Muriwai. The problems besetting this area were discussed, and there was lots of enthusiasm for restoration to a healthy native wetland area, rich in the flora and fauna that was once there rather than the current occupation by exotic water lilies, water polluting Carp and Mallard ducks.
As a follow-up to the workshop, CoastCare is planning to run a trip to the outstanding wetland area between Karekare and Whatipu, on October 11th (but check our website for a confirmed date nearer the time).