Neighbourhood Biology

in Blueskin Bay


Blueskin Bay catchment is approximately 100 square kilometres, on the coast just north of Dunedin, South Island. This rural area features a few farms, commuter’s dormitories, lifestyle blocks, remnants of native forest, plantation forestry, a bay, a surf beach, a river and several streams. In a way, it is a microcosm of the situation in many rural coastal catchments throughout the country.


In 1996, a small group of locals who were trained as biologists ran a 6 week evening class at Waitati School about local ecology. More questions were raised than answers found. The same group then held a fortnightly winter seminar series called "Lore and Data". Here, locals and key people from a number of areas --fishing, forestry, fresh waterways, farming, local government, university -- met to discuss Blueskin Bay from these many perspectives.

Information from these events were set up as ongoing display at the local library and items in local newspapers.

It turns out there was more to do than could be organised on a purely volunteer basis. In 1997, a neighbourhood biology team was set up under OCEAN (Otago Coastal Environment Action Network). Some funding was gained through Lotteries Environment and Heritage. A full time community facilitator/oral historian was hired.

"Aims, Objectives and Targets"

After a year’s consultation with locals of Blueskin Bay catchment, we identified a number of key concerns. These are interwoven with each other so that though we address six key issues individually in 1997, the repercussions will assist other issues overall.

We have as our current aims:

1. Sustainability

To understand key features of long term impact of sedimentation in Blueskin Bay

A major concern voiced by many locals is the perception that the Bay is filling in and/or changing its overall shape. This appears to be a rapid process especially over the past ten years, with dramatic anecdotes reported by many individuals. Sources of sediment are said to be from land, on account of certain farming practices, road works and logging. These all affect the major freshwater streams. Another reputed source is maritime: the dredging spoils of Otago Harbour are dumped in the sea in the vicinity of the Bay. Locals wonder how to assess the rate of sedimentation and to understand its trends for the next fifty years.

2. Pollution

To understand the nature and extent of pollution of local marine and freshwater in Blueskin Bay.

Although a rural/residential catchment, the Bay is perceived to be suffering from water pollution. Major local streams experience changes, leaving locals wondering how healthy are these waterways. Local sewage is dealt by means of septic systems in Waitati and a pond/land based disposal system in Warrington. Locals query how effectively these systems work. Finally, there are a number of former tip sites around the Bay. The sediments adjacent these areas are noticeably different. Locals wonder about possible contamination by leachates.

3. Restoration

To enhance and restore several sites within the Blueskin Bay catchment so as to meet the habitat requirements of wildlife.

From the perspective of wildlife, the habitat of the Bay is not as good as it may appear to the casual human observer. Many wetlands are drained. Large tracts of totara, kahikatea, cabbage tree and flax are destroyed. Regenerating forests featuring manuka and kanuka are being felled.

Seemingly ideal places for nesting and roosting such as the tip of Warrington spit are actually scenes of harassment for wildlife. Humans, dogs and vehicles deter many shore birds from nesting. Reports over the past two years suggest that the few birds who do nest here may hatch some 5 or 6 chicks but only one is known to have fledged. Many locals express concerns about both the lack of suitable vegetation for wildlife and of human understanding of wildlife needs.

4. Environmental History

To construct a compilation of local understanding of the environmental history of the Blueskin Bay.

There is very little recorded public information about the Bay: three university theses on specialist topics (sedimentation and shellfish), several council reports and two slim volumes of Pakeha social history from approximately 1840 to 1950. There is nothing specifically about the overall environmental conditions of the catchment over time.

Yet there is a strong body of local understanding in the memory and opinions of locals and other people involved with the Bay over the years. In a series of group interviews held over winter, some of this wealth has been revealed as it concerned fishing, farming and forestry. There is a desire among locals to collate such information, record the past and depict the present so as to guide the future.

5. Community Environmental Spirit

To develop community spirit based on caring for our common local environment.

According to a report by the Dunedin City Council in 1996, the Blueskin Bay area ranks as socially needy (5.6 on a scale of 1-10, 1 being well off). The factors assessed in this report do not include any relating to the local environment, although this is a mojor feature of local living for many residents. A number of locals express interest in addressing both social and environment issues by means of community efforts about local reserves. These can become focal points for rebuilding local pride and community spirit.

6. Financial base

To create a programme which will give Neighbourhood Biology projects the finance with which to continue in the long term here in Blueskin Bay.

As with any new proposals, there is both local interest and scepticism. Outside funding can give our efforts a good opportunity to begin. Mindful of the need for long term continuity for effective environmental caretaking, a plan must be created to raise a good part of funds from both within the catchment and neighbouring centres such as Dunedin.

Please email Janinne Cunningham

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1997 Mary Gardner Proudly Suported by APC Converge