A sign of the times alongside the Port Road mangrove forest, which is the site of the new Ōkara Marina. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Hundreds of mature mangroves have this week been cut down for Whangārei’s new $20 million Ōkara Marina, angering environmentalists who campaigned against their removal 30 years ago.
Northern Forest and Bird branch chairwoman Robbie Jones said the removal of the upper Whangārei Harbour mangrove forest for the new Whangārei Harbour Marina Management Trust (WHMMT) marina development was disappointing.
The bulk of the mangrove forest, which covers the equivalent of just under 1.5 rugby fields in the area, was cut down last week.
Forest and Bird successfully campaigned against the forest’s removal in the ‘90s.
The disappearing mangrove forest is on Port Rd, between Te Matau a Pohe bascule bridge over the Hātea River, southeast towards Limeburners Creek.
Its resource-consented removal is the start of the $20m marina, which is primarily focused on meeting the growing demand from overseas yachties coming to New Zealand to escape the tropical cyclone season between November and April.
Jones said it was very disappointing to see the mangrove wetland Forest and Bird had fought to preserve being removed for the marina development.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Jones said.
She said those who said the mangrove forest enclave was just one area, and therefore its removal did not matter in the overall scheme of things because there were plenty more of the trees, needed to think.
“That’s what people said about our critical wetlands, and now 90 per cent of them are gone,” Jones said.
She said the mangroves played a key role in mitigating climate change impacts. They also helped protect shorelines and were important for biodiversity. Every area of mangroves in Whangārei Harbour was important for these reasons.
Jones said she was not in favour of marinas, which were simply facilities for the wealthy.
Northland Regional Council (NRC) consents manager Stuart Savill said consenting for the marina development, including the mangrove forest’s removal, had been publicly notified, meaning members of the public had the opportunity to have their say at the time, as part of deciding whether consents were granted.
Permission for the mangroves’ removal was among about 15 NRC and Whangārei District Council (WDC) marina development consents granted by independent hearing commissioner Dr Rob Lieffering in 2019. He was appointed by both councils to decide on the WHMMT’s consent application.
Local Democracy Reporting Northland asked NRC whether the Port Road forest’s removal was the biggest currently in Whangārei Harbour and wider Northland, where the chopped-down mangroves were going to and about the council’s mangroves removal consent compliance monitoring.
The council did not provide a response to these questions by edition time.
Meanwhile, WHMMT chairman Noel Douglas did not comment either on the specifics of the mangrove forest’s removal when questioned by Local Democracy Reporting Northland. These questions were around the mangrove removal process, including start and finish dates, the removal process, what was happening to the removed trees, including where they were going to, and specifically whether they were being dumped at WDC’s Bell Block land at Kissing Point, where tonnes of marina dredgings are to end up.
Douglas provided only a general reply.
“WHMMT is pleased a start has been made on the proposed new marina at Ōkara, Whangārei. Site preparation work required is currently under way for the project,” Douglas said.
The WHMMT trustees also include WDC Deputy Mayor Phil Halse and Whangārei District Māori ward councillor Deb Harding.
WDC has provided 25 per cent of the Ōkara Marina build cost with a $5m loan. Other funding will come from the sale of some of the berths.
The 115-berth Whangārei Harbour marina is expected to open in January 2025, with construction starting in August 2024.
The new marina will bring an almost 30 per cent increase in the total number of WHMMT-run berths to 415, making it the biggest marina provider in the North. The trust already runs WDC’s Town Basin Marina with 200 berths and Kissing Point Marina with 100 moorings.
Ōkara Marina’s berths will be 10 to 35 metres long for monohulls and catamarans.
Berth prices are outlined on the new marina’s website, but only for those with up to a $585,000 price tag – for an 18m-long catamaran berth. A 20m monohull berth will sell for $490,000. Prices for berths beyond these sizes are by negotiation.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.