Last estuary on North Shore under threat

The Okura Estuary at the northern end of the North Shore is the last estuary on the North Shore in good condition. Its waters have not been degraded and it provides a healthy environment for abundant marine life. Dolphin and whales have been seen playing in the waters and it is an important breeding ground for migratory birds such as the godwits. But it is under threat with the development of the Auckland Unitary Plan.

The Estuary is part of the Long Bay – Okura Marine Reserve. The northern side is bordered by beautiful native forest in a Department of Conservation reserve. The southern side is flanked by rolling grassy hills.

In order to protect the waters, ecology and landscape of the Estuary and its environs, two Environment Court decisions restricted development on the sou-western side to lot sizes of an average of 2 hectares and the sou-eastern side to 4 hectares (10 acres). There was a high risk of the Estuary being adversely affected if more intensive development were permitted.

The Unitary Plan process has opened up opportunity for the protective restrictions on the land to be challenged and changed. Proposals have been put forward by landowners on the eastern side of the Estuary for more intensive development with many houses on small lots.

The Okura Environmental Group (OEG) and the Long Bay-Okura Great Park Society are fighting to retain the protections that the Courts have put in place to ensure that there is a high quality estuary with clean water and a nursery for breeding fish and birds for our future generations to experience. They want the exceptional landscape protected for all people to enjoy.

An Independent Hearings Panel has been established to rule on evidence provided by all submitters to the plan. Being involved has been a very complex expensive process, with specialised expert knowledge needed on a wide range of topics.

The OEG and the Society now face a major hearing - the determination of the urban boundary. The current location of the boundary means that intensive development cannot occur beyond that line to the Estuary. Moving the boundary to the edge of the Estuary will allow development to happen on this sensitive area. If this happens, the landscape will change and the waters will be at risk of degradation. The fish and bird life will be threatened.

The OEG and Society are urgently – immediately - needing funds to continue to defend what the Courts have already deemed essential to protect the Estuary. It needs the help of all concerned at the possible degradation of a natural treasure on North Shore’s doorstep. And we need to act now if these protections are to be achieved. Essential litigation steps are occurring within the next month. To leave it any longer will be too late.

To help save the Okura Estuary in its healthy lovely form, donations can be made to the Long Bay Okura Great Park Society through its website, longbaypark.org.nz, or directly into their bank account 12 3053 0467134 00 with depositors name and contact details.

For more information, or if you are able to help in other ways, please contact the convenor, Chris Bettany, info@longbaypark.org.nz on 09 479 4015 or 021 020 40 435.

Photos of Okura - Stillwater Walkway by Kunal Kumar