Restoration of the Port Waikato sand dunes: a community based rehabilitation project

H. Spence, G Lowe, J Dahm, E O'Callaghan

Sand dunes are a dynamic natural buffer between the land and marine environments and therfore an important component of New Zealand's coastal ecosystem. Dunes provide a unique habitat for endemic vegetation and fauna. Anthropogenic pressure on dunes has resulted in widespread damage throughout large areas of New Zealand.

Port Waikato is a small settlement located at the southern and landward end of a large sand spit extending across the mouth of the Waikato river. Public access to the ocean beach, particularly pedestrian and vehicle traffic, extensively destroyed the dune vegetation in this area. As a consequence, the sand dunes in this area were seriously damaged by wind erosion - with migrating sands also causing problems for some of the landward properties.

After preliminary discussions with individuals and community groups, Environment Waikato and the Franklin District Council launched a community based partnership to address the problem. The Beach Care group, formed in Easter 1993, attracted widespread community support - with a large public turn-out to the launch of the group and over 100 individuals joining at this time. The group encompassed a wide range of community interests - including those actively involved in off-road vehicles activities, implicated in much of the severe dune damage.

However, there was also scepticism from within some elements of the community, who regarded the Beach Care approach as "soft" and "na´ve". Alternative "get tough" and regulatory/ enforcement approaches were advocated by these sectors.

However, despite the relatively untested and crude nature of the Beach Care partnership, it has proved to be a very useful forum - enabling the various community interests to improve communication, develop a common agreement in regard to management issues and objectives, and to work together to develop and implement management action.

As a consequence, within just four years, the Beach Care group has successfully repaired the severe fore-dune damage and re-established a good cover of native sand-binding dune grasses. Pedestrian and vehicle access problems have also been addressed - successfully protecting the restored dune while enhancing public access and amenity.

The experience and success of this community based, partnership approach has also encouraged the community, local iwi and various agencies to now attempt to use a similar partnership approach to address significant land degradation issues over the entire area of the 3km dynamic coastal spit.

This experience is similar to that emerging at a large number of sites around the globe and emphasizes the critical community based, multi-stakeholder partnerships can play in effectively promoting sustainable management of coastal and marine ecosystems.

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