See all the Seaweek 2016 Ocean Champion nominees here.
Friends of Waitara River traces its origins back to 1980 and the hearings into the establishment of the Motunui plant (now methanol but back then a Think Big flagship project turning gas into petrol) with their long sea outfall for waste. This was then followed in 1982 by a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal and the subsequent hearing into discharging waste to water around Waitara. The Friends of Waitara River have continued in various forms, advocating for the water, the river, the beach and surrounding sea environments ever since, as well as being active in environmental projects, including extensive plantings of natives to filter runoff and preserve breeding grounds for kokopu. The issues have continued for 35 years and so have some of the group members but the need for the advocacy role played by these people has never been greater as water quality continues to decline.
From its inception, this group has been a genuine partnership between Tangata Whenua and Pakeha and the local hapu continues to appoint its representatives to the group and work in full cooperation. The threat to traditional kaimoana reefs in the area have been a significant focus from the start and a symbol of the health and cultural importance of clean sea.
While the word “river” is in the name of this group, the focus has always been on clean water in the inshore areas around Waitara and the state of the river water has had a major negative effect on the ocean and the local kaimoana reefs.
This group has been under siege from the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) in 2015. They requested an independent commissioner to hear the application for an extension to resource consents allowing New Plymouth District Council to continue discharging waste to the waters around Waitara. The TRC decided to charge for the additional independent commissioner but instead of charging the group, they chose to determinedly pursue the money as a personal debt incurred by three individuals who signed on behalf of the group. The group challenged this decision in court but the ruling went in favour of the TRC on a legal technicality. So they are now faced with a debt of around $23,000 owed to the Regional Council, of which they have paid the first $6000. All for continuing the work of the past 35 years to try and protect water quality and the environment. There is more detail on this case here: http://publicaddress.net/speaker/waitara-and-the-perils-of-public-advocacy/
This debt is a huge millstone and also sends a clear message that environmental groups had better not question the Taranaki Regional Council in the future. And yet the plethora of recent signage warning against gathering shellfish in the area after heavy rainfall is a stark reminder that the waters around Waitara need protection now more than ever.
I think this group deserves to be declared an Ocean Champion for their stamina and focus down the decades defending the local environment.
Photo is ofAunty Ivy – Werenia Papakura Kipa taken in 1982, part of Fiona’s photographic series to highlight the cultural importance of protecting the water.
Nominated by: Abbie Jury on 24 December 2015
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