Protect the Waikanae Estuary

John Robinson wonders if anyone supports driving on the Waikanae River Scientific Reserve sandspit?

A National Treasure

By John Robinson

The sandspit at the mouth of the Waikanae River is a national treasure, a natural environment for birds and for us.

I have written two previous articles for Kapiti Independent News:

  • Waikanae River Estuary Scientific Reserve(June 13)
  • “Action to protect the Waikanae River Estuary Scientific Reserve(June 7)

where I point to lack of protection for this 30-year-old Scientific Reserve, and way that it is abused, particularly by vehicles that drive unchallenged across the sandspit during the whitebaiting season.

Simple solution: ban all vehicles

The solution is simple: to ban all vehicles, along with other straightforward measures.

Everyone I talk to is sympathetic and in favour of doing something – the Mayor, KCDC councillors, the Wellington Conservation Board, Friends of Waikanae Estuary, Guardians of the Marine Reserve, members of the public who have contacted me.

The question has to be asked: if most people want to care for this reserve, why is it allowed to be trashed?

Local iwi claiming special rights

Several pieces of information point to the reason.


The Mayor supports a ban on sandspit driving

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.”

Writing in Kapiti News, the mayor expressed a determination to take action against those driving across the reserve at the mouth, before saying that the Te Kuititanga pa and the battle of 1839 make the Scientific Reserve sacred for Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai.  Iwi are considered ‘guardians of the coast’.

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 spoke in the Public Participation session of a meeting of of the iwi Consultation Group, Te Whakaminenga o Kāpiti, they showed no sympathy or concern.  They rather set aside my request that they join in an effort to care for the Reserve, while claiming special 1840 rights.

The sad situation is a result of the special position of iwi in policy-making, and their apparent desire for vehicle access across the sandspit.

Greater cultural feeling for the environment????

Sir Charles Fleming legendary scientist

One argument that is often advanced to support the effective iwi control is that Maori have a greater cultural feeling for the environment.  It is said that Western science divides nature into isolated pieces, lack that appreciation of the interacting whole.

This is nonsense.  The group who campaigned for this Scientific Reserve before it was set up in 1987 include scientist Sir Charles Fleming. 

I knew Sir Charles as a colleague in the New Zealand Club of Rome in 1980.  We all saw the world as a connected whole and campaigned for an awareness of the problems of common humanity on a global scale; that understanding of the inter-connectedness of all nature within an ecosystem is basic to my concern for the estuary.

We scientists stand up for the environment while local iwi fail to appreciate the sacredness – to us all – of the common environment.

The slaughter of 1839 was not on the sandspit

Te Raauparaha’s Ngati Toa were involved

The sandspit cannot be sacred because of a previous pa, whose site is up the river, around about the inland boundary of the Scientific Reserve.

Nor because in 1839 a battle raged at the pa and then up the coast towards Pekapeka.  Much of the heavy slaughter took place to the north of Waikanae.

Prisoners were taken to the pa (Kenakena) and all were executed; 55 men were buried in a common grave.

That should be remembered with sorrow, but it did not take place on the sandspit.

Need to work together to preserve a New Zealand treasure

The Waikanae Sandspit: a treasure for all New Zealanders (David Wall)

We should leave all specious argument to one side and work together to oppose vandalism.

The situation now is that either the iwi committee join in a common concern and action, or that the Kapiti Coast District Council and the Department of Conservation take their responsibility seriously and assert a firm control of this, our common heritage.







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