The NZ Fairy Tern Charitable Trust has welcomed a High Court decision last month that has given greater protection for mangroves, which it says will improve conditions for New Zealand’s most endangered native bird.
The High Court ruling quashed an earlier Environment Court decision, which prompted an appeal by Forest & Bird and the Minister of Conservation.
At issue was whether National Environmental Standards for Freshwater included wetlands located in the coastal marine area where mangroves are found. Contrary to the Environment Court, the High Court found that they did, ensuring mangroves were now safeguarded by the national standards.
Fairy Tern Charitable Trust convener Heather Rogan says while fairy terns don’t nest in mangroves, the mangroves help protect fish nurseries, which the fairy tern feed on when they forage close by.
She says mangroves also prevent coastal erosion and are an excellent carbon sink, thereby mitigating climate change.
Ms Rogan says with a total population of about 36 birds, fairy terns need every little bit of help they can get.
Last season, five chicks were fledged, one of which is suspected to have subsequently died. But it’s calculated that even to sustain the current low population, about seven chicks need to fledge each year.
Currently, fairy tern breed successfully at only a handful of sites in New Zealand. These are located near Waipu, Mangawhai, Pakiri, Papakanui and Te Arai.
Ms Rogan says now is the start of the breeding season and, so far, eggs have been laid at all the usual sites, with the exception of Te Arai.
However, the Fairy Tern Charitable Trust’s enthusiasm for mangroves is not shared by the Mangawhai Harbour
Restoration Society, which sought to have the earlier Environment Court decision upheld in the High Court and wants to limit the spread of mangroves.
Restoration Society spokesperson Ray Welson says removal of mangroves actually assists bird life.
“Numerous ornithological surveys at Mangawhai and other areas where mangroves have been removed have shown increases in biodiversity and bird wading and feeding activity,” he says.
He says the High Court decision will make it more difficult to manage mangroves and their removal will now require a resource consent.