By Rosemary Penwarden
Why? Good question, and really it's not recommended, but if you did you wouldn't get sick according to the Otago Regional Council at their community consultation meeting held at Waitati Hall on December 8. Missed the meeting? Well, that may be because the ORC pays a contractor to put fliers in mail boxes. Many of us around the bay don't have mail boxes. Still, 13 local people attended, judged a good turnout by the ORC speaker. Knowing the amount of local interest in our bay and surrounding environment, I think many more would have attended if given the chance.
BB was given a clean bill of health and apparently passes all the tests: levels of suspended solids are within safe limits, as are nitrates -- both leached nitrate and ammoniacal nitrate (the fast run-off kind – think 'dirty dairying'), E. coli levels, one measure of faecal contamination, while increasing, are also within limits. Phosphorus has also been measured to be well within safe limits despite a large spike in the past few years.
So the ORC tell us that our bay is much healthier than similar bays in the North Island. But are NI bays a good measure to be judging us by? Is it a case of the lowest common denominator – we're cleaner than those dirty places so it's OK to carry on with our dodgy septic practices, and continue to let developers build wherever they like around the bay? ORC did acknowledge that residential development (for example, Opeke) was a big risk to a clean bay.
Some of our cockles end up in USA and Europe and must pass very stringent food hygiene tests, so our bay is highly monitored. Roger Belton from Southern Clams explained the procedure in detail, and it was interesting to hear how it's done and the huge amount of data he has accumulated.
But there are still questions that did not get discussed at the ORC meeting. Farming has increased along both Careys Creek and Waitati Stream in recent years. Residential development around the bay has increased as well. The large spike in phosphorus levels, along with increases in sea lettuce (Ulva lactutta) blooms, are guaranteed indicators of nutrients entering the bay. These indicators alone suggest a deterioration in the bay's health. Many residents will be aware of the decline in fish over the past decades -- Blueskin Bay once supported commercial fishing but now you are lucky to catch a herring.
To compare ourselves to the dirty over-farmed bays and streams in the rest of the country is not good enough. We should be aiming for the healthiest bay possible. This is in everyone's interest; not only those who have known such things for years (the 'greenies'), but farmers, commercial business people and council staff too. We should be planting riparian strips along the streams, in the estuary, all around the bay and we need to keep stock out of the water. The DCC has a biodiversity fund for landowners wanting to plant and fence around streams. DoC are planning to plant trees in our estuary this year to offset the Rugby World Cup carbon footprint. This is a 'step' in the right direction, but it needs careful and long term management.
- How do the ORC safe 'limits' translate into a healthy thriving ecosystem?
- How do the ORC limits compare with similar monitoring limits in other countries and other places?
- And where are all the fish?
What about another meeting, ORC, to look at these further questions and to discuss how we can, as a community, take stewardship of the planting in the estuary? Please advertise in the Blueskin News, and use our community notice boards. We may not want to eat it, but our bay matters and plenty of us are willing to help keep it in good health.
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū
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