Sand mining meets wave of opposition
BY JULIA WADE
Rights to remove a much sought-after commodity lying in the shallow depths of local waters is again being pursued by industrialists, causing concern for an environmental watchdog group and locals.
Auckland based company, McCallum Brothers Ltd (MBL), have held rights to nearshore mine up to 76,000 cubic metres of sand per year from Te Arai and Pakiri waters since 2006, and currently are preparing to renew their agreement with Auckland and Rodney District Councils, which expires in 2020.
If the company’s proposal is successful they will be permitted to extract 1.9 million cubic metres of sand for another 25 years, extracting the equivalent volume of Mangawhai’s iconic sandspit plus an additional 600,000 cubic metres or one-third more.
Pakiri sand is in high demand due to its consistent high-quality of grain and being contaminant-free.
A family owned company operating from 1904, MBL have been mining sand at Pakiri since WWII, using the grains for construction products such as ready-mix concrete. The company’s coastal permit to dredge at Pakiri was extended in 2009 after the High Court upheld an Environment Court decision that ‘natural sand replenishment would compensate for sand taken’.
Operator Kaipara Ltd also hold a 20 year permit from 2003, to take two million cubic metres of sand from the deeper waters surrounding Mangawhai/Pakiri and Little Barrier.
However Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society (MHRS) hold serious concerns regarding nearshore sand mining operations in the embayment and have previously opposed former sand extraction successfully in 2004. The group were invited to a meeting with MBL representatives in February this year to discuss the terms of the new application.
MHRS spokesperson Ray Welson says that although the meeting provided ‘a better understanding of the commercial drivers behind the new proposal’, it failed to address the significant environmental issues.
“We approached the meeting in good faith but are left deeply concerned with the approach and attitude exhibited by McCallum. Although we raised various concerns most of them were not answered.”
McCallum Bros had previously notified in writing to MHRS that a key part of the new application would be to move the sand extraction out to deeper waters, from the current 5-10 metres to 15-25 metres.
Marine conservation and education centre, Seafriends, who published a comprehensive study regarding sand mining, citied one of the most significant actions to minimise environmental harm, including loss of sand from dunes, erosion of the beach and changes to surf breaks, is the distance between the shoreline and mining site, ‘if sand is taken deeper than 30 metres or further out to sea than 3km from every shore… beaches and dunes would not suffer’. Countries including France, Japan, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Malaysia already have a 20 metre protection perimeter in place.
“However in the meeting McCallum sought to retract this intention to relocate their operations,” Welson says. “We consider that nearshore sand extraction should be prohibited within the Mangawhai-Pakiri embayment to prevent further and irreversible damage to the coastal environment.”
The company’s method of how the sand will be mined in the new agreement also raises concerns, with MBL commissioning a new dredging barge to be built overseas. Unlike the current dredge which digs holes in the sand, the new vessel will be capable of gouging out continuous valleys along the seabed, adversely affecting marine life activities in the embayment including wave and tidal flows Welson says.
“While McCallum presented their monitoring processes for minimising their environmental impact, it was evident that these processes were to ensure the suitability of the mined sand for their commercial concrete applications, not out of concern for the habitats they are invading.”
MHRS concerns are shared by Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard environmental educator, Tony Baker. The keen surfer and author of ‘Iron Sands’ (Damaged Goods, surfing magazine) an article on the effects of black sand mining on New Zealand’s west coast beaches, says he has detected a ‘very evident and real difference’ along the coast between Pakiri and Te Arai as a result of the sand dredging.
“Where there used to be lush, full and abundant sand dunes there is now sandstone and hard rock underneath. Where there used to be perfect sand banks creating epic waves, there is now a permanent storm beach ditch, and waves just dump on the shore as opposed to breaking on offshore sand banks,” he says.
Another Mangawhai local, Jacob Hassall, was so concerned about the ‘significant difference in wave quality dropping over the years’ he began a petition on Change.org, which has received numerous support with nearly 5000 signatures to date.
“The Mangawhai to Pakiri stretch of beach has been mined for sand for a few too many years… it has taken a toll on worm beds and all the surf breaks… and it’s only going to get worse”.
Sand extraction vessels linger along Te Arai’s coastline, stirring up debate on the potential harmful effects of sand mining in nearshore waters. PHOTO/Tony Baker
“The Mangawhai to Pakiri stretch of beach has been mined for sand for a few too many years… it has taken a toll on worm beds and all the surf breaks… and it’s only going to get worse.”