Mangroves and the Manukau a Resume of the Mudlarks

                        Mangroves and the Manukau

                             Ian Scobie, Chairman

           Waiuku Estuary Restoration Trust Inc. (Mudlarks)

See a reply to this article from Bill Kirk ex Manukau City Councillor at the bottom of the page


I have had a lifetime association with the Manukau Harbour. My parents bought our bach at Orua Bay in 1945 when I was five years old but before that we stayed in a cottage owned by the Makgill family towards the western end of the bay.

We lived in Pukekohe at the time, but nearly every weekend and other holidays were spent there especially in the summer months.

This connection with the Manukau has instilled in me a deep and binding affection for this beautiful and often neglected harbour, so was it any surprise that when we retired, we bought a house on the edge of the estuary at Waiuku.

Once settled into our small maintenance free home and with some time to spare I was able to look at what lay beyond the reserve between us and the narrow but still navigable channel some 60 metres out.

Having been a fairly recent subdivision I guess I should not have been surprised to find a sizeable array of builders’ rubbish, old tyres, fallen trees and all sorts of plastic and metal objects. I realised I had no option but to get down there and clean it up.

The banks sloping down to the water’s edge were also a disgusting mess and having removed the rubbish I decided to plant the bank in suitable native trees, hoping this would eventually prevent erosion.

Having done all this and not being one who likes sitting around doing nothing. I decided to cut out a few unsightly and misshapen mangroves. This was my undoing and the desire to cut a narrow passage out to the channel became of paramount importance.

This was great for a while as I could now launch my kayak straight out from the house and puddle up and down the stream to my hearts content. You’d think that I would be satisfied with this, but no, the bug had already bitten and with a bit of egging on from my neighbours the urge to keep taking out more mangroves to provide more scope for waterborne activities soon became the most important activity in my life.

 About this time there were meetings going on between council members and townsfolk regarding the neglected state of all the estuaries within the Waiuku basin area to a narrow entrance close to the Glenbrook steel mill. This is generally called The Needles.

The coastal compartment management plan was one of the main documents circulated at the time, which outlined a lot of concern held by residents, but also pointed out the overbearing, ambiguous and draconian regulations and rules that often barred the way for well meaning and dedicated residents who were prepared to spend their time and energy to bring about some improvement to their adjacent water ways.

On attending some of these meetings and talking to some of the more supportive people started to formulate some ideas about taking this further. A guy called Sam Shackleton was incredibly supportive and suggested many ideas which were very similar to my own. After talking to a couple of our local board and parks members it was suggested that a survey be taken of the Sandspit Peninsula to gauge the extent of support for removal or management of the quickly spreading pest – the mangrove.

A survey/petition was conducted and not really surprising, but very encouraging, was the result. We had 97% in favour of the complete removal of this invasive plant. This petition was part of a submission to council regarding the CCMP. It was rejected on the grounds of one objection, namely Forest and Bird.

I wasn’t prepared to take this setback lying down so using this result as a mandate from the people came the idea f forming a dedicated group who as it turned out were all retired gentlemen with similar aspirations with a wide range of expertise.

Because a lot of mangroves are virtually inaccessible except by water it became apparent that a purpose built barge was the only option to access these areas. Taking this idea to a local body and council meeting I was surprised to receive overwhelming support for the barge. The big problem was getting funding as only a small amount from council was available.

With some trepidation I approached a local timber merchant, Terry Ryan, to see if he could donate some of the plywood and timber to do the job, thinking this would be just a start. To my joy and amazement he offered to supply all of the plywood timber and stainless fastenings to complete the project. Then Mitre 10 Waiuku came on board with offers of ropes, chains, anchors and a wonderful array of equipment.

My own boat building experience was put to good use and with the great support of local businesses provided necessary equipment to complete the task and the barge was completed at my son’s shed at Otaua in less than six months.

Council offered to supply the outboard motors required to propel the barge and provided much of the remaining funding to complete the project. During this time Franklin District Council applied for consent to remove 9.1 hectares of mangroves from six separate sites on the western side of the Tamakae and Rangiwhea estuaries.

By the time the barge was finished we had already started on Site 1, the area north on the western side of the Tamakae, the main estuary to the town. We cleared this first area by tying the cut mangroves into bundles and with long ropes, towing them across the channel to the wharf where they were mulched and applied mainly to council gardens with excellent results.

The name Mudlarks came from Dave Gribble, an idea he got from the down and out people of London who scrounged for anything of value in the mud on the Thames. Dave has been a great ideas man who came up with the idea of our cradles, to contain the cut mangroves in a tight bundle ready to be stropped for lifting onto the barge via our four davits equipped with chain blocks. Many other ideas have evolved over time which have made or methodology more efficient and time saving.

We started in June 2010 and over the next three years we completed the nine hectares allotted to us apart from two small sites that weren’t of great significance to us. Over this time we removed approximately 1000 tonnes of mangroves, roughly 200 barge loads. These bundles were hauled off the barge by Ian ‘Woody’ McCall’s tractor and mulched. There were many favourable comments from townsfolk and business people with the waterfront seemingly back to its glory days, boaters and kayakers enjoying the new found space and people marvelling at the increased bird and fish life. Rodent trapping was done resulting in 35 large rats killed in the Rangiwhea area alone.

Very soon after areas of mangroves were cleared we noticed shoals of small fish seemingly attracted by the obvious increase in food available to them, but also they appear to prefer the open water compared to being under the mangrove canopy. Once the fish arrived, so too did the birds, such as tern, kingfishers and white faced heron, attracted by this new source of food supply. The sight of a Kotuku (white heron) and increasing number of royal spoonbill are an exciting development. Pied stilts, oyster catchers and during the spring/summer period, godwits, wrybills, banded dotterel and knots along with our common gulls are gradually frequenting our cleared areas.  Dave has a photo of six royal spoonbills feeing alongside the channel leading up to the wharf end. Pauline Hamilton has taken some amazing prints of birds which support our belief that we are having a positive effect in restoring the estuaries to their original state. We had some great open days with residents turning up to flounder in the mud to pull out seedlings, a task we have to accept need to be kept up to prevent them taking over again.

In some larger areas we have engaged the services of PD groups who have shown that when you encourage them and work alongside them you can achieve excellent results. We have had council staff and our local MP attend one working bee and have the Prime Minister, the Hon John Key, come on the barge to meet and talk with the guys gave us a lot of encouragement. A while back, our MP Dr Paul Hutchinson brought environmental minister Hon Nick Smith to make him aware of the situation. Having come from a district that doesn’t have mangroves I think he was enlightened to see the extent of our problem

Our endeavours were often rewarded with some appreciative residents offering us scones and coffee and even the occasional beer. Little did we realise while all this as happening that things were not right with the council. We were completely ignorant of the fact that there were some areas of mangroves that were supposed to be left.

The parks officer at the time had told us that they would do the monitoring in accordance with the consent. As it turned out it was probably for the best as had we know, for instance, that a 10 metre buffer zone had to be left around the shoreline, I doubt we would have even started.

We were all feeling great about what we had achieved and when a new parks officer came on the scene, informing us that we had committed serious breaches of the consent. This was at a time when we had almost finished building the bridge over the Owens Road creek. A huge crane was hoisting the bridge into place when we were ordered to stop all work immediately and await the outcome of an inquiry into our activities. Even though council agreed that they were responsible for the lack of monitoring, they decided that all work must stop while mitigating procedures were put into place. Can you understand the disappointment and frustration this had on our group who had given up thousands of hours of leisure time with their wives and families to slog away in the mud only to have these unfair, and we feel, unjust penalties place on us?

Our operations were stopped in April 2013 and it is now well into 2014, over 14 months and we still have not had any indication as to when any new consents will allow us to get started again.

In the meantime a whole raft of compliance requirements placed upon us have been completed. These included chainsaw courses, scrub saw courses, first aid courses and having all our lifting gear certified and the barge surveyed.

We are now in the process of planting out native rushes around the shoreline to create a continuous band of wave erosion protection. Tree planting on the banks will also help prevent erosion as well as suppressing weeds and enhancing the edges of the reserves. Seedling removal is also important and until all the mangroves are removed it will be an ongoing task to control them.

A new application for resource consent to allow the removal of mangroves to The Needles is being placed before council with support from Ngati Te Ata and other groups. This, in the view of the Mudlarks is the only way we will be able to control the never ending spread of the propegules (seed from the mature trees) and would reduce dramatically the ongoing maintenance of the estuaries.

Over the time our group has been operating, much studying and monitoring of the effects of mangrove colonisation has been done with an overwhelming realisation that they have no beneficial effect on the environment at all. In fact, quite the opposite with the closing down of areas for wading birds, fish life, the ability for Maori to collect their kaimoana (shellfish) to name a few.

Sediment seems to be a controversial subject with consultants claiming that containment of sediments by the mangroves is a good thing. The fact that a mature mangrove forest can produce eight tonnes of leaf litter per year, creating a lifeless toxic waste land within their forest, is in our view the main cause of sediment build up with unacceptable land use operations coming in second.

The Mudlarks sincerely believe that given the opportunity to clear all mangroves to The Needles, this would provide and ideal area in which to monitor and record all the positive effects so as to prove once and for all that the reasons for protecting this highly invasive and relatively speaking newcomer to our shore were correct.

Most of the research done to bring about this protection has now proven to be highly questionable. With so little information available on Avicennia Marina, then to use exotic species of mangroves that do have  beneficial results as the basis for their findings, one must wonder what it would take for councils and the so called experts to sit back and realise maybe they have made a huge mistake.

You could be excused for thinking that with all the hard work, the research, the goodwill, the saving of hundreds of thousands of dollars to council and the desire of the Mudlarks to see an improvement both visually and environmentally, that council could try to be more helpful and sympathetic to our cause.

Maybe we are just dreaming, but would it not be marvellous for them to sit down with us and try to find and amicable and agreeable solution to our problem.

To download a PDF version of this document please click HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Please click on picture for an enlarged view

Before and After Mangrove Removal

Please click on picture for an enlarged view

Mudlarks Bridge and Work in Progress

Please click on picture for an enlarged view

from Bill Kirk re Mudlarks

Bill Kirk is an ex Manukau City Councillor

1 July 2014

The article by Ian Scobie should be circulated to all Auckland Councillors and all Local Boards. Did councillors agree at some meeting that the work being done by the Mud Larks should stop and the long winded report by someone at Tauranga should become the rules for the work. Councillors are paid to make the decisions, Officers can only make recommendations. Who was the new boy that stopped the work? Councillors need reminding that Auckland City would have a waterfront locked in by mangroves  had it not been for the  earlier decisions of  citizens that reclamation was needed  to provide a port for the City. This situation is becoming  ridiculous. Some councillor needs to move that the work of the Mud Larks be  recognised and that all assistance possible should be  be provided by the Council. 

Bill Kirk