Items of interest from this week's meetings of the Council's two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Sampling results show weather’s influence
The weather’s influence on the state of rivers and streams is apparent in the latest report on physical and chemical monitoring of Taranaki waterway quality, alongside the continuing benefits of extensive riparian fencing and planting. The latest report covers the 2018-2019 year. Following a number of wetter than normal years, it was comparatively dry, resulting in better water quality as assessed by measures of clarity and turbidity, and levels of suspended solids and nutrients, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The report assesses a range of measurements taken at 13 sites, as well as medium- and long-term trends based on data from 24 years of monitoring. Based on sampling from 2015 to 2018, the sites were well within compulsory Government nutrient standards, with an A ranking for 73% of relevant samples and B for the rest. The greatest improvement in long-term quality was in the mid-reaches of the Waingongoro River, the result of major discharges being diverted to other treatment options. While long-term trends show deterioration at the lower reaches of Mangaoraka Stream, and the mid-reaches of the Waiwhakaiho River and Maketawa Stream, more recent date suggests the deterioration has ceased or almost ceased.
High-flying marine research
Council scientists are now reaching for the sky in their long-term monitoring of Taranaki’s coastal reefs, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Drone surveys of seagrass cover are a new element in twice-yearly monitoring of six representative reefs around the Taranaki coastline. The latest monitoring report, covering the 2017-2019 period, notes that seagrass is an important habitat and measuring its coverage helps scientists assess the health of reef ecosystems. As well as being a valuable source of kaimoana, reefs are a major factor in marine biodiversity. Their condition can fluctuate from season to season, mainly due natural influences including, notably, sand movement fed by erosion of Taranaki Maunga. Of the six sites surveyed over 25 years, Manihi Reef, south-west of Rāhotu, is consistently the most diverse and rich in species numbers because it is relatively little affected by sand movement. In general across most sites, species richness has increased since 2010. However, the Waihi Reef in South Taranaki appears to be in slow decline, and scientists are investigating further to determine causes.
Predator-free effort in full swing
Towards Predator-Free Taranaki - Taranaki Taku Tūranga continues to enjoy strong public support as it goes into its third year, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Around 13,000 traps have been deployed around the region. The rural programme this year saw the creation of a 28,000ha buffer of mustelid traps around Taranaki Maunga, extended to include Oeo on the initiative of enthusiastic landowners. The expansion of the urban programme has been greatly boosted by the leadership and support of the Waitara Taiao community group in North Taranaki, and the zero-density possum programme in the Kaitake-Oākura area is now in a mop-up and monitoring phase. The campaign is notable for its high-tech innovations, including remote sensors, a wireless mode and an app to aid with monitoring. Towards Predator-Free Taranaki is being rolled out across the region in stages and aims to boost populations of native plants, birds and reptiles by removing introduced threats. It is supported by more than $11 million from the Crown company Predator-Free 2050 Ltd.
Well-placed with wetlands data
Taranaki is well placed to have all of the region’s natural wetlands identified and mapped to comply with a new Government directive, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Council has been building its wetlands datasets since the 1990s and work continued last summer with a project to identify and map urban wetlands. Council field staff are also verifying the location of wetlands during their regular visits to ring-plain, coastal and hillcountry farms. The Council will commission Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research to review and aggregate its wetlands data sets and create a single map layer to meet the new Government requirements. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs and any inland area where land and water meet. Their diverse ecosystems are essential habitat for a wide range of species. They also help to filter sediment and nutrients, mitigate floods and improve water quality. Some also have cultural and spiritual significance.