Digger repairing coastal rock protection - Hokitika

Recent storms coinciding with big seas and high tides led to erosion of the beach and temporary rock protection at Hokitika earlier this month.

West Coast Regional Council Chair and Westland District Council Mayor approved emergency works on Friday 12th April.  Although staff did think penguins, they failed to speak to either the West Coast Penguin Trust or DOC and a digger was sent in with a plan to create a road for the earth/rock moving vehicles behind the erosion face.

That meant coastal vegetation needed to be cleared.

That should have sent alarm bells ringing for everyone involved.  Coastal vegetation is habitat for a variety of species and, in this area, that includes little penguins or kororā.

Inexplicably, the decision had been made to access the rocks from the top of the erosion bank rather than, as they did before, make a ramp down to the beach and carry out repairs and rock placement from below, with no impact on vegetation.

Vegetation clearance approaching penguin nesting area Hokitika
Vegetation clearance approaching penguin nesting area Hokitika

Fortunately, Hokitika Guardian reporter, Janna Sherman, rang Trust Manager Inger Perkins the next day, and Ms Perkins was able to go straight to the site with a map of penguin nesting sites in hand.

A quick chat to the Henry Adams team project leader making clear that there must be no more vegetation clearance gained immediate understanding and acceptance, quickly supported by WCRC Chair, Peter Haddock in a phone call.

The Trust’s map showed a nest just metres further north of the digger, so it was stopped just in time.  It may be that the penguins were not at home, but they could well have been hunkering down there after the big storm.

There were a few challenges at the time including the serious rain warning event for Westland with an Emergency Operations Centre operating for at least three days prior and then senior staff being at AgFest, a two day event in Greymouth on Friday and Saturday.

Natural resources engineer, Kent Jacobsen, came down from WCRC within about half an hour and quickly reviewed the situation and agreed alternative approaches with Ms Perkins to ensure no further vegetation clearance as well as ensuring penguins would have safe access over the rocks before the repair team left the site that day.

In a letter to the editor in response to a statement from WCRC published in the local paper, Trust Manager thanked Ms Sherman for the alert and Messrs Haddock and Jacobsen for their swift and positive responses.

She added:

“I have shared nest site locations as well as locations where dead penguins have been found with both WCRC and Westland DC staff, a protocol has been provided for any coastal rock protection works, all district councils contributed to beach access signs to alert people to the possible presence of penguins, and I have made numerous submissions relating to coastal works or development.

“It is therefore extremely disappointing that the work could have started before a discussion could be had with the West Coast Penguin Trust or DOC.  It is extremely disappointing that the option to clear vegetation to create a road to manage repairs to the rock protection from above was chosen rather than the previous approach of creating a ramp and working from the beach.  That option was subsequently agreed and implemented.  There was no need to clear any vegetation.

“I am sure that none of those involved – contractor, councillors and staff – would want dead penguins on their conscience or reputation.

“Please, for any works in coastal areas – contractors, councils, developers, even kiwi rail – think penguins, think wildlife, think nature.  Disturbing, damaging or clearing coastal vegetation must be a last resort and not undertaken without a thorough assessment of environmental effects.  It may not only provide homes for penguins but also for other protected wildlife such as weka and skinks, it provides amenity and shelter and can help hold sand in place.”


Read original news here (Hokitika Guardian)

Read follow up news story here (originally in the Grey Star, here from the ODT)