A strong affinity for Mangawhai’s stunning coastline has kept a devoted local man walking and working the sands on Mangawhai’s iconic spit for nearly two decades.
Long-term guardian of Distal Spit, Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society (MHRS) member Jerry Pilmer, has dedicated 17 years to the growth and life of the reserve, dunes and harbour waters, from gathering and harvesting local coastal plant seeds, assisting to sow 20,000 spinifex and pingao seedlings every year, and overseeing the volunteer planting days, as well as pitching in with rabbit control, and building fences and bund walls.
The ex-navy engineer also helped maintain the plant nursery on Gumdigger Lane, which grew plants specifically for the Spit before closing in 2014.
One hundred thousand plants and 1.5km of fenceline later, Jerry is still one of the coastline’s main protectors, walking solo over the Spit every month to monitor sand movement and sea levels, seedling growth and keeping a watchful eye on the habitats of the resident birds, especially the endangered fairy terns.
“I just wander, check the areas sites, talk to the birds who give me a good reply though I keep well away from them and their nests,” he says. “It’s just so beautiful out here… just feels relaxing and satisfying.”
Jerry’s affinity with the wildlife possibly reflects his earlier years of living on a farm and sailing the world’s seas. The oldest of three siblings, Jerry escaped his alcoholic father and tumultuous homelife by joining the Royal NZ Navy’s engineering department and, through his service years between 1963–72, crisscrossed the oceans on navy missions to Ireland, the Far East, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Japan, Taipan and the Philippines, and was also involved in the Indonesian conflict.
After leaving the navy as a qualified fitter-and-welder, Jerry was presented operational medals for active service in the mid-90s from both the NZ defence department as well as the Malaysian government, who awarded the returned serviceman for protecting their waters.
Also a petty officer and mechanical engineer, Jerry’s work life includes holding contracts with NZ Post and Police, installing and repairing damaged mailboxes and speed-camera boxes.
Moving to Mangawhai in 2002 with wife Marion on a part-time basis, Jerry became involved with planting on the Spit and repair work at the Spit nursery before he joined the MHRS in 2009, and has been hands-on ever since.
After watching ‘Sand Wars’ at the recent screenings, Jerry says he was saddened by the industrialists who just ‘want to line their pockets, take every bit they can and don’t give a damn, its good there is a lot protest against them’.
“What is encouraging though was the enthusiastic commitment from over 25 new volunteers who answered the Society’s call to assist with planting on the Spit recently,” he says. “I would like to thank all the volunteers who have given their time over the years in helping to care for the health of our lovely coastline, we’ve got to look after what we’ve got.”
Jerry and the Dunemakers: Jerry Pilmer with volunteers who embraced the unique experience of walking across the Spit to the ocean, sowing hundreds of coastal plants to nurture and protect the unique environment for now and the future. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
“It’s just so beautiful out here… just feels relaxing and satisfying.”