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Iconic spit needs fresh hands



7 MF-MHRSvolunteers-763Guardians of Mangawhai’s harbour are putting a call out to enlist fresh ‘seagreen-fingers’ to help maintain the health and beauty of the iconic sandspit and surrounding waters. 

Officially forming after the legendary ‘Big Dig’ in 1994, Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society’s (MHRS) main purpose is to protect and restore the areas sandspit and surrounding harbour, with fencing, developing nesting sites for endangered birds, predator control, essential sand monitoring and dredging, as well as the seasonal bedding of 10–15,000 plants.

The group has been spit planting annually for the last 18 years, MHRS president Doug Lloyd says. 

“Since forming we’ve built 1.5km of fencing, established thousands of native plants, and controlled the rabbit population since 1997. The dredging programme is absolutely critical as sand builds up very quickly,” he says. “We just need more volunteers to help with the planting sessions over the next few months, which is about four hours a time and usually followed by a BBQ.”

As a community-based society caring for its own harbour, and funded through Mangawhai rates, MHRS’s role is unique Lloyd says, as the responsibility of coastlines usually lies with a regional council.

“Mangawhai Heads is established around the fishing community, if we don’t look after the harbour we wouldn’t have the amount of fishing people going out from there. The town would be quite different without it.” 

Many of the group’s activities are directed by the community-developed Sustainable Management Plan, established in the mid-1990’s following public concerns of the harbour after the Big Dig. Dredging is their largest, most expensive and most critical operation, however due to MRHS’s ongoing efforts and guidance from a professional marine biologist the harbour now retains its natural depth from the early 19th Century, when sailing ships were a common sight in the waters. 

Although the group’s mangrove removal programme has often attracted controversy, recent surveys of the cleared areas show rapid shellfish growth and a substantial increase of bird life in both numbers and species, including the endangered dotterals, godwits and spoonbills. 

Seventeen hectares of Mangroves have been removed with a noticeable impact along Insley Street as well as removing the juvenile seedlings on an annual basis. In 1950 there were no mangroves in the harbour.

“Tropical mangroves are brilliant, the trunk stops off the ground and all the branches with shells underneath make a beautiful nursery for the fish. They are often confused with the New Zealand mangrove whose trunk goes into the ground puts up all the breathing shoots which trap mud and becomes rotten, nothing lives in it.” 

Two other local environmental groups, New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust and Mangawhai Riparian Society were also formed by several members from MHRS. The group is also ‘leading the charge’ in recreating the jetty from Mangawhai Tavern, with several members forming the Mangawhai Historic Wharf Trust, Lloyd says. 

“We are a low key organisation and we are spending Mangawhai money so we feel it’s important for people to know what we are doing,” he says. “Volunteers are a big part of the society, we would like to encourage more people to get involved with the harbour, especially younger people, as the harbour is an important recreational area for families where they can swim,  kayak,  great for kids fishing, sailing, Waka ama,  gather shell fish and just enjoy the view. There is an old saying around town. “The health of the harbour is the wealth of Mangawhai.”

 Interested in signing up and helping protect Mangawhai’s sands and harbour? Contact President Doug Lloyd at mhrsoc@gmail.com.

It’s dune planting season on the Mangawhai spit and volunteers are needed to help with this and other important projects. PHOTO/Julia Wade

“We would like to encourage more people to get involved with the harbour, especially younger people, as the harbour is an important recreational area for families.”
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