Every year, around early January two local community groups (Bryans Beach Area Community Group and Waiotahe Care Group) get together to clean up the Waiotahe Estuary. There are several care groups working together in the naturally rich Ohiwa headland to create conditions for a diversity of shorebirds to flourish again. Activites range from pest control, replanting with natives, and monitoring shorebird populations over summer.
Ohiwa Seascape Studios overlooks the Pacific Ocean on one corner, and the Waiotahe Estuary on the other.
This year there seemed to be a decline in rubbish collected, though a collapsed maimai (duck shooter shelter) was dismantled and contributed a fair bit to the collection.
Waiotahe Spit and Estuary is one of the natural gems of the Opotiki coastline. It retains a rare combination of features: a sand spit, an estuary, river mouth flats, adjacent low hills, a pa site, an urupa, pohutukawa forest, several rare birds (New Zealand dotterels, banded rails, and fernbirds), important shellfish beds, mangroves, culturally valuable plants (pingao) and a fish breeding zone (whitebait and others).
The spit is mainly vegetated in bracken-grassland following clearance of the original forest. There are however, clumps of Pohutukawa trees at its base and at the pa and urupa at the outer, or eastern, end of the spit. Spinifex with some pingao occupies the foredune strip to seaward. The dotterels, and oystercatchers and stilts, breed at the tip of the spit. These dotterels are monitored by DOC and local volunteers. Rabbits, stoats, cats, rats, weasels, hedgehogs and possums are resident, though there are extensive traps throughout the area monitored by locals (including myself). The estuarine mudflats are habitat for wading birds, several fish species and numerous invertebrates, including shellfish. Whitebait spawn in the seawater/freshwater wedge where the river and streams enter the estuary. Where the Waiotahe River enters are two small mangroves, the only remnants of the former mangrove forests of the estuary. These, and the population at the Waiaua Estuary are at the southeastern extreme of the range of mangroves in New Zealand.
Waiotahe Spit was historically very highly valued as a food source for both fish and shellfish. This abundance of food led to the area often being contested for ownership and control by hapu of the Whakatohea, the Upokorehe and the Ngatiparu people against Tuhoe. Whakatohea were the inhabitants of the adjacent pa, but there were times when they were dislocated by Tuhoe and then Tuhoe would have control and occupation. The area is a meeting point on the Whakatohea and Tuhoe traditional boundaries.
Karen is a co-owner of Ohiwa Seascape Studios. When she is not busy at the studios, she is busy enjoying becoming a part of the local community here in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.