Aramoana’s ecological treasure

Among the many birds which feed on the rich ecosystem of the Aramoana saltmarsh are pied oyster...
Among the many birds which feed on the rich ecosystem of the Aramoana saltmarsh are pied oyster catcher (left) and pied stilt. PHOTO: ARAMOANA CONSERVATION CHARITABLE TRUST
The Aramoana saltmarsh boardwalk allows visitors to reach the centre of the 240ha marsh without...
The Aramoana saltmarsh boardwalk allows visitors to reach the centre of the 240ha marsh without damaging the native plant life. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
A panel describing the many plant and bird species of the Aramoana saltmarsh visible behind.
A panel describing the many plant and bird species of the Aramoana saltmarsh visible behind. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

An ecological treasure of national importance lies hidden in the intertidal zone near the entrance to Otago Harbour — the remarkable Aramoana saltmarsh.

The 240ha saltmarsh, located close to the Aramoana settlement, is an important part of the Aramoana Conservation Area, which encompasses a complete set of ecological zones from mudflats to low dune slacks.

The area is host to special saltmarsh plants and shrubs, and is a vital feeding spot for a large number of birds, including godwits, banded dotterels, black-billed gulls, grey duck, kingfishers, and oyster catchers.

Aramoana Conservation Charitable Trust chairman Bradley Curnow surrounded by the extraordinary...
Aramoana Conservation Charitable Trust chairman Bradley Curnow surrounded by the extraordinary Aramoana saltmarsh ecosystem as he stands on the viewing platform. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
Aramoana Conservation Trust chairman Bradley Curnow said the saltmarsh’s high conservation status recognised that it was not only a complete ecological system, but that is was unique in being both fresh water and tidal.

"There are actually fresh water springs underneath it, making the whole wetland a vital store of water," Mr Curnow said.

"A healthy wetland system, such as this one, can store vast amounts of water."

A network of pathways and board walks extending into the saltmarsh from the Aramoana domain made the area a nice place to walk, and a viewing platform was a good vantage point from which to observe the life of the area, Mr Curnow said.

"The paths and board walk are great, they make it possible for people to enjoy the place without damaging it."

The conservation of the Aramoana saltmarsh dates back to the proposal by a joint Swiss-New Zealand consortium to build a second aluminium smelter at Aramoana in the early 1980s.

A major campaign against the proposal resulted in the smelter plans being abandoned — the saltmarsh was vested in the Department of Conservation and later designated an ecological area.

The Aramoana Conservation Charitable Trust came into existence about 10 years ago with the aim of helping preserve the wildlife and flora of the area, particularly the saltmarsh, Mr Curnow said.

"One of our major projects is weed control in the Aramoana ecological reserve, where we work to eradicate wilding pines, introduced grasses, and invasive Spanish heath," he said.

"We also have long standing agreements with Doc to allow us to trap mustelids (mainly stoats) and possums."

The group was led by five trustees, who worked hard to ensure the survival of the wildlife at Aramoana, supported by keen local volunteers, Mr Curnow said.

The group put in 390 volunteer hours last year on removing weeds and trapping.

Another important focus for the Aramoana Conservation Charitable Trust was to advocate on behalf of the local population of sea lions, as well as hoiho/yellow-eyed penguins, he said.

The trust was delighted that there had been two sea lion pups born in Aramoana this season.

brenda.harwood@thestar.co.nz

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