Tapora Landcare Group chairman Earle Wright, left, and committee member Nick Common. Just this month, Nick got his tractor stuck trying to help an off-road driver out of the sand and had to bring in a digger.
A major environmental restoration project at an important bird refuge in the Kaipara Harbour, just offshore from Tapora, will start in September.
After seven years of planning, Manukaupa, also known as Big Sand Island, will be transformed bringing new green jobs to the district.
The island and reserve will be cleared of dense pampas, pines and gorse, and replanted with natives.
The first 750 seedlings will be planted by Tapora School students.
A new flattened and compacted vehicle access-way has been formed at 525 Okahukura Road and will open as soon as the Department of Conservation (DOC) delivers signage.
The Tapora Landcare Group applied for a $1 million from DOC’s community fund for the project, receiving $100,000.
“It’s going to take a generation to revegetate the island to its native state and bring back wildlife including kiwi,” Landcare chairman Earle Wright says.
In 2013, a bush fire burned pines and native trees at Manukaupa. Since then it has become overgrown with pest plants and weeds.
Earle believes the island now presents an even greater fire risk, especially to the burgeoning avocado industry that surrounds the reserve.
“The reserve is filled with dry vegetation, and the avocados would be like little hand grenades because they are full of natural oil,” he says.
Training of new employees for the restoration project will start soon at the Tapora Golf Club.
“We want to find people who have lost their jobs because of Covid-19 and train them in pest management and removing pines, and develop their understanding of the needs of birds.”
The project will participate in the government’s $100 million ‘taskforce green scheme’ that subsidises wages for environmental jobs.
Earle says a big part of the restoration project is educating the public about the importance of the island to native wildlife, as well as its significance to Te Uri o Hau and Ngāti Whātua.
He says 28 generations ago, the first Ngāti Whātua waka arrived at the island, which at that time extended to the mouth of the harbour, providing a safe landing spot.
“All Ngāti Whātua marae, from Kaipara to Bastion Point in Auckland, originate from this single point,” Earle says.
Oral histories passed down the generations tell of a village that was established there, but it was wiped out, along with much of the island, by a tsunami before European contact.
The island is also the first stop for migratory birds who have flown directly from Siberia and Alaska.
“Fairy tern visit the island to fill their puku but they are not nesting here because it is not safe to do so,” Earle says.
Despite being wahi tapu, the island is a popular recreational spot for off-road vehicle drivers and years of unmitigated activity has destroyed the birds’ habitat.
Earle says if 4WD drivers use the low tide mark at the southern end of the island it will reduce the impact on birds.
“Our kaitiaki rangers can show you a better way without destroying the environment, and point out the best spots to fish.”