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Wellington's Ohau Bay

Importance of Ohau Bay, Wellington

Jim Mikoz

5 October 2005


Agenda DOCNGO201005

To Martin Gembitsky

DOC NGO contact person


Senior Statutory Biodiversity Officer (Fish & Game)

External relations

Head Office

Department of Conservation

From Jim Mikoz


Honorary Vice President

New Zealand Angling and Casting Association


Agenda item for DOC NGO meeting 20 October 2005 raising serious issues in relation to the submission by the Department of Conservation to the Greater Wellington Regional Council under the name of the Director General of Conservation (Hugh Logan). This submission recommends that Meridian Energy Ltd use Ohau Bay as the access point for their West Wind turbine project. This recommendation supports the erection of two breakwater walls in the bay and to mine the beach to provide fill for a sheet pile causeway.  


This recommendation by the Director General of Conservation is based on the Department of Conservation Wellington Conservatory acknowledging they have little knowledge of the importance of Ohau Bay. The submission lacks research as the migration of marine mammals around this coast has been described by DOC scientists, so it follows that DOC should be aware that Ohau Bay is a major feeding waypoint for marine mammals including the endangered hector and maui dolphins. There is a core of experienced commercial and recreational fishers who are aware that dolphins and orcas can, at times, be seen feeding on eaglerays, warehou with the smaller mammals feeding on yellow eyed mullet, piper and mackerel, inside Ohau and Te Ikaamru Bays. These bait schools are rarely fished by commercial fishers and no one is aware of recreational fishers targeting them.

This agenda item is to serve notice that the Director General is now placing the Department of Conservation in breach of the basic principle of the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. (MMPA )

The Director General is required under the MMPA to "manage" the marine mammals and has previously served notice that "manage" includes ensuring they have unimpeded access to their traditional food source as he introduced a netting ban on the west coast. The intentional destruction of yet another of their food sources will have implications far in excess of that of nets and will make it very difficult for these endangered mammals to recover.

The decision to support the building of a causeway of sheet piling, using the existing beach as back fill, and the added construction site will cause an uncontrollable quantity of mud run off into the pristine waters of Ohau Bay. Combining all these consequences will, when added together, destroy the food chain of these baitfish schools - a chain that has scientific links to dolphins and orcas.   History is repeating itself. The inter tidal ecosystem of the Marlborough Sounds was destroyed by fast ferries and continues to be by other shipping travelling at speed, resulting in the collapse of the blue cod fishery.  

This decision will destroy a major spawning ground for the commercial specie warehou that is also a known food source for orcas. The projected run off of mud and silt will smother the bay's food source for the large quantities of paua in the bay to levels NIWA research has determined as unacceptable. The barge trips and the upsetting of the currents with two breakwater walls will, according to experienced commercial fishers, upset the weed banks that butterfish are known to spawn. The seals that feed on the butterfish and mackerel in Ohau Bay could be denied their food source. This decision by the Department of Conservation has been made two days after the launch of conservation week, which had the theme "Everything is Connected" and indicates a serious lack of research and marine knowledge by all DOC staff involved.  

It is totally unacceptable for the Department of Conservation to believe marine mammals could   locate another food source for the suggested two years that construction takes. However, there is information that the breakwater wall and causeway will remain in place "during the operation of the wind farm, the berthing structure will be in used intermittently to bring in new parts as necessary" (Assessment of Ecological Effects of the Berthing Structures (AEEBS) page 3)). And further "if the structures were to be left permanently in the Bay, it could be argued that a relatively greater stable habitat has been created (albeit artificial) and the breakwater was enhancing the total biodiversity" (AEEBS page 25). This is an unbelievable statement from a marine consultant and adds to the many other questionable statements and descriptions of the findings by the marine consultant contracted by Meridian to support the project. It is totally unacceptable for the Department of Conservation to support such misinformation when the applicant, describing the waters of Ohau Bay status that a "large range of larval forms are present in the water column throughout the year" (AEEBS) page 27.


The Department, in the reply to my agenda item at the previous Department of Conservation Non Government Organisation (DOC NGO) meeting, has described the lack of the Departments knowledge of Ohau Bay by saying " there appeared to be a lack of information about marine species that utilise Ohau Bay". And "the effects on the marine environment are likely to be short-term (temporary) and relatively minor". Based on what information?   The reply to my agenda item from the Wellington Conservatory mentions "a temporary breakwater wall" when in fact there will be two, which will block the seaweed from performing its function on the beach and destroy any marine larvae that comes into contact with it. The consultation with the applicant as to how long the structures will be in place is not consistent with what the Greater Wellington Regional Council report to the joint hearing indicates, "The structures may be in place for up to five years" (10.1.1).  Did the Wellington Conservatory ask for, or receive any advice from the DOC marine scientists, as Ohau Bay has a unique visible marine life hardly touched by man. Now we find from the GWRC  "the transects and video survey used in the ecological survey of Ohau Bay do not appear to have extended as far as the section of reef on which the breakwater wall will be partially located" (10.3.2).  

The Meridian environmental report, somehow describes a beach of sand as having "low biodiversity/ecological value and the exposed nature and the mobile sediments of the Ohau Bay site mean that the ecological effects of constructing the berthing structure and crane pier will be localised and mostly temporary, and we considered insignificant" (AEEBS page 24). The consultant report has many errors and lacks research and this is proven by his statement "Because of the remoteness and general lack of recreational interest use of Ohau Bay, no beach profile information has been recorded", Assessment of Physical Effects of Structures in Ohau Bay (APESOB page 21). The assertion there is a lack of interest is not true and it should be noted that neither the Wellington Recreational Marine Fishers Association (WRMFA) or the Wellington Surfcasting and Angling Club (WSAC) were consulted. I warned the Chair of the DOC NGO meeting Ohau Bay was an important bay to marine life and marine mammals, but was ignored. The WSAC has kept catch records since it was formed almost fifty years ago that have been used by Mfish and their club history book (Red Cod and a Conga Eel) describes the value of this bay.  

The decision by the Wellington Conservatory and the Director General of the Department of Conservation to destroy the pristine, virtually untouched by man waters of Ohau Bay while acknowledging they have no knowledge of their value, is unjustifiable environmental vandalism where as Oteranga Bay has been an industrial bay since the installation of the power cables with the remains of a wharf still in the water and a Government imposed fishing ban to within two hundred metres from shore.

I do not accept that "what may happen to Ohau or Oteranga Bay is not of national importance" This was the reason given by the Chair of the DOC NGO meeting on the 18th August 2005 as to why there was no discussion allowed to comment on the reply from the Wellington Conservatory to my agenda item requesting the Department minimise the impact on the marine ecosystem of the region by not authorising the destruction of Ohau Bay. The importance of a bay should be judged by its value to marine life, not as an out of the way bay where few will see or realise the destruction that is being carried out by man under the authority of Government.  

The recommendation to destroy Ohau Bay could have been avoided with better communication by the Wellington Conservatory, who continue to avoid any consultation with recreational marine fishers and other NGOs. The lack of consultation by both the Wellington Conservatory and the Department of Conservation Head Office on marine matters has led to a number of marine environment destroying recommendations. This decision to inform NGOs that protecting the food source of dolphins is not in the national interest will stand out above all others. Some of the others have included endorsing the dumping of 100,000 tonnes of dredge waste into a number of the submarine fresh water springs in Wellington Harbour, and endorsing the stripping of sand from ten kilometres of beach and in doing so causing the collapse of the ecosystem of two lakes, killing thousands of native fish and eels. Then endorsing the sinking of a ship painted in lead in an area proposed as a marine reserve, known for its seven knot strong currents and sixteen metre swells. However, they all pale into comparison to the intentional destruction of a bay known to hold the food source of two protected marine specie that migrate around the Wellington waters, last seen 6pm 24 September 2005 free jumping in Wellington Harbour.


My questions are therefore:

  • Is the Department of Conservation prepared to amend their submission to enable Ohau Bay to be retained in its pristine, unpolluted by mud, rarely visited by man, natural state, known for two generations to be a major feeding way point for migrating mammals?
  • If not, is the Department of Conservation prepared to take itself and the Director General to court for a breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act before or after we produce photos of orcas and dolphins trying to access Ohau Bay?
  • On the 26 August 2005 the Government, through the Minister of Fisheries, announced the development of a Threat Management Plan to manage the threats to Hectors and Maui dolphins. Can you confirm that the Director General of Conservation is aware of this plan?
  • Is the Director General prepared to acknowledge a mistake has been made and it is not the intention of the Department of Conservation to starve dolphins for five years?
  • The Director General of Conservation has omitted to pass comment on the proposed mining of Ohau Bay, "The berthing structure would most likely be constructed from sheet piles and filled with local material (ie beach gravels)" (APESOB) page 2. Ohau Beach may have shingle further up the beach but the inter tidal zone consists of silty sand. Has the Department of Conservation no knowledge of the value of sand to the inter tidal marine ecosystems found on any beach in New Zealand? Is it then acceptable to mine the beach after every big sea has washed the fill out of this causeway?
  • Is it also the Department of Conservation's intention, by recommending Ohau Bay as the turbine landing area, to gain improved access to the Bay and the coast south of Ohau Point so as to give paua poaches and beach ecosystem strippers better access in the future?
  • The Director General must be aware that there is planned another sixty wind turbines in Long Gully, has the Department of Conservation decided where the access for this project should be? Would it be true the most central and logical location would be Oteranga Bay?
  • The belief by the Department of Conservation that the stream running into Oteranga Bay is of greater national importance than hector and maui dolphins defies logic. Is the Director aware that the application makes it clear the natural character of this stream will be lost?   Protecting a stream because it has "high native fish values" ( DOC submission ) is a poorly researched belief. Recent Otago University science has proved native fish travel in and out of the sea throughout their lives and a native freshwater fish seen today could travel out to sea in the next flood remaining in the freshwater layer until finding another stream.   This stream, the Department of Conservation is so worried about will have its springs buried, catchment filled with the estimated one point seven million cubic meters of dirt and an estimated fifteen hundred meters of bends converted into a three hundred and fifty metre quarried rip rap ditch. The increase in water velocity at times of flood will make the stream's lower reaches unrecognisable in any event. Is the Department of Conservation really putting such a stream ahead of the protection of dolphins, orcas and seals?
  • The support the Department of Conservation has given to Meridian Westwind plan to industrialise yet another bay on the Wellington coast completely contradicts the vision presented by DOC in the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000 ( NZBDS) called "Our Chance to turn the tide". The draft NZBDS "outlines six key areas for action, including - better managing the marine environment, improving assessment and management of endangered species, better government action and more community participation". Has Government's and the Department of Conservation created another vision that eliminates dolphins from being managed as endangered species?

Background to the agenda item

This recommendation to build structures in Ohau Bay will deny orcas and dolphins, including the severely endangered Maui and Hector dolphins, their historic and traditional access to the baitfish that school up in Ohau Bay. These schools consist of yellow eyed mullet, piper and mackerel that gather in Ohau Bay to feed on the sand hoppers that breed in the beach cast seaweed in the summer months. At times eaglerays and dolphins including baby orcas can be seen driving the baitfish into the shallows. The eaglerays that feed off the baitfish will be denied a food source and in turn orcas will also be denied another known food source. Warehou and blue cod and a number of other marine specie are known scientifically to spawn in this silty sand and to destroy it will deny them their traditional spawning grounds in Ohau Bay. This is another of the thirty five marine areas of importance that I identified as being completely missing from the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement which DOC should be addressing through better consultation. Orcas are known to feed off the warehou schools as they migrate around our coast and destroying the warehou spawning ground in Ohau Bay will impact on orcas in the future.

I can see no difference between nets and building two breakwater walls that will prevent the described  "vast quantities of drift-algae that are washed into the bay (Ohau), which are then covered by the very mobile beach sediments, where they decompose in low oxygen conditions " AEEBS page 8. "Beneath the decomposing algae large numbers of amphipods and isopods were present (Lysianassid and Phoxocephalid specimens were identified)". These are what we call sand hoppers and are the beginning of the food chain.    Breakwater walls and nets both have the potential to kill dolphins, one, by entanglement and the other by the Department of Conservation being a party to starving them to death - everything is connected.

I have yet to meet anyone in DOC or New Zealand that would intentionally set out to kill dolphins, but it is through ignorance of the importance of the marine environment that we are in the situation where we are losing our native dolphins. The lack of marine knowledge described in the Department of Conservation's submission has also been discussed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in December 1999. Then he published a document called Setting Course for a Sustainable Future. The Management of New Zealand's Marine Environment.   In section 5, page 74, Adequacy of Environmental Information (5.2) " Different kinds of information" he had this to say: --

  "However, in an information scarce environment like the marine environment, informal information will often be a resource that marine managers cannot afford to neglect or ignore."

In a later publication called Missing Links the Commissioner in Section 1.3.1 page 16 had this to say describing, "What this report does not cover"

As we examined the relationship between science and environmental policy it became clear that it involved a broader range of issues that we could adequately address in a single report for example:

  • There are questions about whether science used in some adversarial approaches to environmental policy and decision making contribute to sustainability. For example there is the potential for scientific evidence to be selectively used in resources consent hearings for the purpose of gaining or maintaining a particular interest or position, which could be to the detriment of the broader principles of sustainability.
  • There are issues around the roles and influence of science and expert scientific witnesses in legal proceedings on environmental issues.

I ask you to correct the error of judgement made by the Wellington Conservatory and ask that the Department of Conservation look further into the future and endorse the views expressed in the agenda item presented to the previous DOC NGO meeting, that a permanent causeway be built over the beach at Oteranga Bay.

The protection of the stream in Oteranga Bay is out of all proportion to how the Department is allowing other streams in the region to be mismanaged.

Below are three examples:

  • The two streams into the Karori Wild life Sanctuary will have all life removed by DOC so that they can be restored without trout.
  • The South Karori Stream has four discharges of raw sewage and chemicals a year from the sewage plant five kilometres up stream, endorsed by DOC.
  • DOC removed the pines off crown land in the catchment of the Wainuiomata River, without one mud run off dam being constructed and lead battery waste was allowed to leach into the river from a rubbish tip.



Jim Mikoz


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