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Abel Tasman National Park | New Zealand

New Zealand - Crowdfunded beach in danger from overuse

It's been dubbed "the people's beach". But it's perhaps people that Awaroa could use fewer of, says an ecologist who has been visiting the stunning Tasman Bay spot each year for three decades.

The stretch of golden sand at the Awaroa Inlet was made famous in 2016 when Christchurch men Adam Gard'ner and Duane Major kick-started a crowd-funding campaign to save it from private ownership.

After raising more than $2 million through Givealitte, the two brothers in law secured enough to buy it and gift to the Department of Conservation (DoC).
Its addition to Abel Tasman National Park was hailed as a victory for people power.

But Professor Steve Trewick was concerned the campaign and publicity surrounding it hadn't been a boon at all for the beach and its natural values.

"Awaroa is a pin-up beach for New Zealand.... but this image would not be so valued if it showed...

"Awaroa is a pin-up beach for New Zealand.... but this image would not be so valued if it showed the motor vehicle activity," Professor Steve Trewick says.

DoC, however, disputes the claim that tourists are having a big impact.

Trewick, an evolutionary ecologist, visits the spot with his family each year, reaching the beach by walking across the inlet at low tide or otherwise using a small boat.

During his most recent holiday, last month, he was worried by what he saw.

"It seems that recent years have seen substantial increase in visitors and an increase in the number of businesses set up to provide for those visitors," he said.

"In addition to private individuals quad bikes are used by commercial groups to ferry visitors and their luggage, bring in fuel or take out rubbish."

Trewick said the beach was now "consistently" marked with fresh tracks from quad bikes and tractors.

"Sometimes these extend around the bird nesting area of the spit - and at least some are clearly the result of joyriding," he said.

"On the whole, users are careful in terms of keeping speed down - but the overall effect is to shift away from pristine natural conditions.

"Enjoying some private time by the sea with one's own thoughts or with family members is no longer possible without accepting the sound, smell and general presence of machines."

Powerful boats visiting the inlet at high tide often failed to consider the impact of their noise and the waves they created, he said.

"It is very difficult to tell whether there are direct impacts on the physical structure and stability of the dune system and the biology is sustains.

"Obviously by its nature this foreshore is physically active and being reworked by the ocean.

"But that activity, sound, smell, sun and rain is what one goes to a remote place for, not to share in the kind of industrial activity from urban places."

Trewick was worried the issue reflected a "growing disconnection" with our natural environment and the tendency for "modern" living to overwhelm nature.

"Awaroa is a pin-up beach for New Zealand … but this image would not be so valued if it showed the motor vehicle activity," he said.

"If we are not prepared to use our feet and accept some sweat on our brows carrying our goods, then perhaps we should stay at home."

Gard'ner today told the Herald that he and Major trusted DoC and the management plans it had put in place.

But he said the pair would prefer that vehicle use on the beach be kept to an "absolute minimum".

Gard'ner wanted Awaroa to be a peaceful place – "a place for wildlife to flourish and for people to go there, enjoy and reflect, wherever practicable, without motorised vehicles".

DoC's Golden Bay operations manager, Dave Winterburn, said he was aware of "sporadic" quad bike and tractor use by "two or three" permanent residents and bach owners at the beach.

The public couldn't drive to Awaroa as there was no road to the beach, and the road from Takaka ended near the shore of an estuary about 2km away.

Winterburn said he'd noticed no big increase in vehicle use there since the beach became part of the national park, although there may have been a change following cyclones that hit Awaroa last year.

"We encourage residents to be mindful in their quad bike use to minimise disruption to native wildlife," he said.

"We also ask them to stick to a designated quad bike corridor."

DoC and private conservation trust Project Janszoon were meanwhile making plans to better protect native birds breeding at Awaroa Sandspit.

The work included signs asking visitors to stay off the sand dunes, and barriers to restrict vehicle and foot traffic on the sandspit.

He said tourism operators had been bringing visitors to Awaroa by boat for many years, and were required to follow guidelines to minimise the impact of landing visitors on the beach.

Professor Steve Trewick says he has noticed a "substantial increase" in visitors to Awaroa Beach

Professor Steve Trewick says he has noticed a "substantial increase" in visitors to Awaroa Beach

"There's also a limit on the number of people they can land on the beach each day and throughout the year," he said.

"The visitors land on the beach, enjoy the area on foot and are having no significant impact on the environment at Awaroa."

Nelson Regional Development Agency's visitor destination manager Gisela Purcell said the commercial boats that landed on the beach were designed to have a "minimal impact" on the seabed.

In the near future, their petrol engines would be replaced with electric ones.

"It is important to note that Awaroa is a settlement with private properties so locals who regularly holiday in the area will also have an impact on this beach as well as domestic and international visitors," Purcell said.

"I can't comment on what people with their own boats and quad bikes are doing in the area but we work closely with the commercial operators in the park."

See Otage Daily Times story . . .