Community feedback - what you told us in June/July 2023

The South Canterbury community has provided a wealth of information, ideas and stories to Our Waitarakao – a project to help restore the health of the Waitarakao Washdyke Lagoon catchment.

The project team was pleased with the positive level of response to the project, with great turn-out to community events and visits to the Timaru Artisan Farmers Market stall, 170 surveys completed, as well as more than 90 ‘ideas and stories’ submitted during June and July 2023. There was also strong interest from businesses, landowners and groups in the area. The information gathered will be used to help inform the next steps in creating the strategy.

The wider Timaru community was very supportive of raising awareness of Our Waitarakao, co-hosting additional events to highlight the importance of improving the health of the area, including displays and activities at the South Canterbury Museum, South Canterbury EcoCentre, Timaru Library, articles in the local media, planting events and even beach clean ups.

Here’s some of what the community shared with the Our Waitarakao team, including comments (shown in italics) from survey and event participants. You can also take a look at a summary here.

Our Waitarakao Washdyke Lagoon Catchment

Results from all feedback - including events, surveys, and meetings – was overwhelmingly supportive of the creation of a joint strategy to restore the health and mauri (lifeforce) of the lagoon and catchment. This was reinforced by more than 100 people, businesses and organisations who offered to be involved in future community workshops to help develop the strategy.

“The lagoon needs to be protected from human impact. Any human benefit from the lagoon should be because it is protected and healthy, not exploited.”

People visit the lagoon for many reasons

Waitarakao Washdyke Lagoon is a special place for wildlife and mahika kai (traditional resource) gathering and it is also a popular place for recreation, education and improving our health.

From the community survey, walking and exercising are the most popular reasons for visiting the lagoon, closely followed by visiting the rockpools on the basalt reef. There were many other reasons for visiting - showing that it has many uses including birdwatching, whitebaiting, school trips and meditation.

“It is a cool place to be one with nature and look out to the sea.”

“It's a taonga for Kati Huirapa.”

“It is a breath of fresh air. It is beautiful on a stormy day, scenic, full of noise from bird chatter, waves and smells, a treasure. It is refreshing. It is utilised for bird watching, walking, fishing, photography, sunrises watching, field trips and general recreation.”

The community was also asked in the survey what specific features within the lagoon area were important to them. The top answers were:

  • It's a Department of Conservation Wildlife Sanctuary to help protect endangered native and migratory birds, aquatic life and rare plants;
  • The catchment has many small streams feeding into the lagoon, which are important for supplying freshwater and providing habitat for fish and other animals;
  • It's part of a coastal walkway that links up with Caroline Bay;
  • It provides an important link along a network of coastal wetlands in Canterbury for migratory birds and animals; and
  • It has accessible rockpools which people can visit to explore and look at many interesting sea creatures.

The decline of the natural environment was the key concern

Across the different types of feedback, people were most concerned about the decline of the natural environment of the lagoon and the wider catchment area.

In the community survey, the top four areas of concern were: loss of wetland and plant habitat; declining water quality in the lagoon from urban and rural activity; erosion of the beach, lagoon and coastal land; and disturbance of bird nesting areas from motorised vehicles, humans and dogs.

There was also a lot of feedback that people have experienced litter and rubbish when visiting the lagoon.

“(It is) particularly important for humans, animals/birds to cohabitate in safe, healthy and secure environments. From living in close proximity to the lagoon I became very interested in the abundance of birdlife. Somehow we need to stop its decline, particularly not allowing it to get any smaller.”

People want improved access to the lagoon area, better information and education

Feedback from the community showed a demand for better access to the lagoon area as well as increased educational signage and information. For those surveyed that had not visited the lagoon, the biggest reason was because they didn’t know how to gain access (there is foot access from Bridge Rd, the Coastal Path (currently closed) and Aorangi Road). Some people also commented that they didn’t know that the lagoon was a wildlife sanctuary or accessible to the public at all.

There was also strong interest in improving walkways and cycleways in the area, as well as linking these to other key active transport networks.

The importance of the basalt reef rock pools, as an educational opportunity and special place, was also highlighted in many comments.

“With a wetland area so close to a city centre, I think there should be a focus on conservation and restoration, with regional plans reflecting this over industrial and agricultural interests.”

“More visual displays near the lagoon/walkway entrance explaining traditional (Māori) usage of Waitarakao Lagoon for kaimoana etc. Information on types of birdlife/wildlife that can be seen, near the site too.”

“I had no idea of this wonderful taonga so close to Timaru. Always thinking it was part of the Washdyke industrial area. Keep up the good work raising awareness of this!”

“The ‘Our Waitarakao’ project is a great opportunity for people to see the importance of wetlands in the past and for the future. Schools are interested in their local area and this project fits in nicely with kaitiakitanga – being guardians of natural sites and the organisms that live there. Climate change and the effects on our coasts is also important for our young people and their whanau to learn about. This project can help highlight this information”. - Keely Kroening, South Canterbury Museum Educator.

Business, industry and landowners are eager to improve the health of the area

Engagement with businesses, industry and landowners indicated a high level of interest in getting involved in future actions to improve the catchment – and many already had ideas about how they could make a positive difference to the environment.

Thirteen stakeholder meetings, including with farming catchment groups, irrigation schemes, businesses and non-profit organisations, were held during the engagement phase to introduce the strategy and gather ideas and information. All meetings were positive and highly productive, with a willingness from all to contribute ideas, feedback and knowledge of the catchment area – including thoughts on flood protection, enhancing wetlands and environmental compliance. The meetings also led to requests for future presentations to other interested groups.

“Establish a sustainability collective made up of business/industry and other key stakeholders to support the delivery of agreed science-based environmental outcomes and deliver on business sustainability goals.”

Next steps for Our Waitarakao

The project team and its steering group will now use the feedback and knowledge gained through this engagement with the community to help inform the next steps of creating the strategy. This will include some additional focused community and stakeholder workshops looking at different ideas for improving the health of the area, as well as how to measure success. A draft strategy for the lagoon catchment will then be drafted and available for feedback in the first half of 2024.

About Our Waitarakao

'Our Waitarakao' Washdyke Lagoon Catchment strategy is a partnership between Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua, the Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury, and Timaru District Council to plan for the area’s future by addressing problems with water quality, wildlife habitat, flooding, erosion, and the impacts of climate change.

The strategy will be for the whole catchment area, as activity in the wider area impacts the health of the lagoon through the many streams, drains and neighbouring businesses, farms, and properties. There are also emerging issues across the catchment area with flood protection and the impacts of climate change that are likely to be part of the strategy.

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