Driving on the Waikanae Scientific Reserve

Open letter to the Minister of Conservation

By John Robinson

Waikanae sand spit (Credit David Wall)

The sandspit at the mouth of the Waikanae River is a national treasure, a place of great value for the many and varied birds that gather and nest there, much cherished by the many who walk there, free from traffic away from the built environment.

That value is recognised: it is a Scientific Reserve, bordered on the seaward side by the Kapiti Marine Reserve.  Driving over the sandspit is forbidden – in theory.

In practice vehicles frequently drive across the sandspit, and often park there.  These are most numerous, and do the most damage to the ecosystem, during the whitebaiting season.

The driving is illegal but permitted!

Department of Conservation, Kapiti and Wellington Operations Manager, Jack Mace, has written to me that vehicles are breaching council bylaws by travelling along the beach into the Scientific Reserve. Under the Coastal Policy Statement and the Scientific Reserves bylaw, that is illegal. It can damage shellfish beds, endanger wildlife such as nesting birds and, of course, people.

While driving is banned on the Waikanae Beach, the Kapiti Coast District Council (KCDC) issues permits for anybody wanting to drive on the beach for whitebaiting.

This is absurd, since the whitebaiting takes place along the river in the Scientific Reserve, which is excluded in the permits.  The practical result is that many vehicles do drive there, never mind what words are written on the paper.

No action from interested parties

  • KCDC is sympathetic but has not told of any action they might be taking.
  • The Iwi Group did not tell me of any policy but claimed special rights dating from 1840.

The situation is sad, and ongoing.  Without action 2018 will see the same trashing of the environment that I saw in 2017, which has gone on for years.  My enquiries have told me that no action is under way or planned.

Something must be done right now.

What should happen?

  • DoC should insist on protection of the Scientific Reserve.
  • KCDC should stop issuing permits to drive on the beach for whitebaiting.
  • The law should then be upheld, actively policed and obeyed by all.

But that is not envisaged and meanwhile the law saying no driving can take place is ignored.  The authorities take no action, while the vandalism continues.  Expressions of concern by KCDC and DoC are empty.  Why?

Several items of information point to what is going on.

  • The mayor has written in the Kapiti Independent News: In 2014 DoC officers attempting to enforce the Bylaw at the beach during whitebaiting season faced serious objections including from local iwi members.
  • A response to my request for information to the KCDC said: The reason why we issue vehicle on the beach permits is to provide for those who have a legitimate reason to be there (e.g. to repair a seawall).  As a part of an understanding that was established with DOC and Iwi in 2014, whitebaiting was included as one of those legitimate reasons.
  • When I met with from the Iwi Consultation Group, they showed no concern, while claiming some special but unspecified 1840 rights.  They did not tell me if they wished to protect this treasured environment, or whether they might tell iwi members to stop driving over the sandspit – despite my challenge to them to do so.

Iwi blackmail?

The only conclusion I can reach is as follows.

The Department of Conservation and the Kapiti Coast District Council have given in to demands from ‘iwi’ some years back and do not police the law. 

A number of iwi members are insisting that they should be allowed to drive across the Scientific Reserve, with no regard for others or the environment. 

There is a block to the required action, which would be to respect and take care of the environment by stopping that illegal vandalism.  In the current political climate, Maori claims of special rights are given priority over the law that all others obey. 

Despite posing as “guardians of the coast”, iwi members are selfish and have no regard for the environment.  They are allowed to break the law and do considerable damage by fearful public representatives in local and central government.

Will the vandalism on the sandspit continue?

The suggestion that many are apprehensive about demands from iwi that they consider as threats is backed up by a number of conversations with concerned locals.

I would be pleased to be proved wrong.  If there is some other explanation for this absurd and sad situation, I would like to know of it.

I am left with the fear, and the expectation, that the 2018 whitebaiting season will see the same vandalism that I have observed in 2017.

I invite you as the responsible Minister, and all others with some responsibility for this environmental gem, to meet with me and to set out a plan for immediate action.


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