The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has been ordered to tighten up its rules concerning mangrove management following a legal challenge from a Tauranga environmentalist.
Basil Graeme appealed to the Environment Court following concerns waterfront property owners are obtaining resource consent to remove mangroves because they don’t like looking at them – consequently creating problems for the future.
Basil Graeme pictured with mangroves.
His appeal against the mangrove provisions of the regional council’s proposed Regional Policy Statement was upheld in part last month.
Environment Court judge Jeff Smith has now ordered the BOPRC to immediately make changes to the mangrove management provisions of the RPS so obtaining consents for mangrove removal becomes more difficult.
“It’s fine for the odd foreshore property owner at the moment who wants to protect their open water views, they’ll get the benefit today. But anybody who is under 50 is going to be paying the cost in the future, of this policy,” says Basil.
“We are going into climate warming, no doubt about that. The only debate is how much warming we are going to get.”
Basil says mangroves have a useful function in that they can feed back against warming factors, by absorbing carbon.
As well as being a marine habitat nursery and food supply for Parore, mangroves will also play a protective role when the sea level begins to rise, he says.
“We are talking about a really significant sea level rise by the end of the century – for which the authorities are required to look ahead 100 years under the National Coastal Policy Statement.”
The regional council’s Regional Policy Statement is the council ‘operating manual’ that derives its legal authority in coastal environmental matters from the National Coastal Policy Statement.
New Zealand should be planning for a one metre rise in sea level by the end of this century, according to the Royal Society of New Zealand.
“Which is going to be fairly catastrophic for the properties around the edge of the harbour.,” says Basil.
“The other value mangroves have for the harbour is they are the major filter. They are trapping the sediments that are coming off the land, and they are going to be coming off the land in increasing quantities as we get climate change and more severe storms.
“A good healthy harbour as far as productivity goes needs lots and lots of mangroves, in future.
“So you just wonder why an authority such as the regional council is so hell bent on getting rid of mangroves.”
Basil took court action upon learning the consents process for the recently announced mechanical mangrove seedling removal process was being made non-notifiable.
Commissioner Greg Hill, in his September decision of making the resource consent application non-notifiable, dismissed Basil’s prior written request to BOPRC to be notified of resource consent applications, stating he is not an affected party
“It is done without any chance of having any public participation,” says Basil. “And that means the issues that I’m particularly concerned about are not actually going to be heard at all.
“The judge commented verbally at the hearing that he was surprised that the regional council was prepared to use ratepayers to fund the personal gain of a few foreshore owners.
“We are not talking peanuts here. It would be over $1million of our rates used to wreck the natural ecology and character of the harbour.”
Judge Jeff Smith says, as originally drafted, there are portions of the RPS which might give an impression the regional council had reached a conclusion that mangroves should be removed.
“Use of words such as ‘Manage mangroves to avoid the adverse effects of mangrove proliferation’ appears to involve an assumption that proliferation has adverse effects,” he says.
In context that is unlikely to be the council’s intention, but Judge Smith required ambivalence in the policy to be clarified
He says Basil’s interpretation is coloured by the hefty number of consents the regional council has previously granted to remove large tracts of mangroves, with little or no regard to other factors the council is required to allow for.
“We suspect that these decisions have been driven by the lack of opposition and desire to support estuary care groups,” says Judge Smith. “We do not think an assumption can be made that consent will continue to be granted in the same way in future.”
Mangroves are native plants and their management must recognise that, and that they are part of the character of the coast, he says.
Mangrove removal is a breach of the preservation requirement the regional council must uphold by law. Accordingly there must be some justification to remove mangroves beyond a mere public dislike, it was decided.
The ecological evidence is clear. Mangroves have ecological value and their removal has no ecological benefit, says Judge Smith.
The variation to the RPS made as a result of Basil’s appeal includes a number of factors which must be borne in mind when consideration is given to modifying mangroves.
“Failure to address those in future applications is likely to be fatal to an application,” says Judge Smith. “In the past it appears there have been occasions when those factors have not been considered at all.”
For the last nine years, volunteers have been removing mangrove seedlings by hand in 600 hectares (ha) of the 21,800 ha Tauranga Harbour. The regional council now has consent to continue this work with machinery.