Animals do well on breakwater

The Waitaki District Council is proposing to once again restrict access on Oamaru’s breakwater...
The breakwater has been closed since 2019, when the Waitaki District Council learnt it was in breach of its consent if it allowed public access. Photo: Hamish MacLean.
More restrictions could be put in place if Oamaru’s historic breakwater is reopened to the public.

The breakwater has been closed since 2019, when the Waitaki District Council learnt it was in breach of its consent if it allowed public access to the 1872 Heritage New Zealand category 1 structure.

If public access was to be granted, the Department of Conservation has said it wanted no access beyond the gravel area, access only during the daytime, and maintenance of physical barriers to stop seals getting on top of the breakwater.

Doc coastal Otago operations manager Craig Wilson said observations from the public and staff showed an increase in wildlife, including threatened species, using the breakwater since its closure.

Those species included Otago shags, red-billed gulls, and little penguins, and the restrictions would help them thrive for resting and breeding purposes.

"However, to allow the wildlife to successfully use this area, disturbance from people and dogs needs to be managed," Mr Wilson said.

"[Penguins] feed at sea during the day and return to nesting areas on shore at dusk. Frequent disturbance will stop penguins from coming ashore, depriving them of habitat and during the breeding season, stopping them from being able to feed their chicks."

While there was no "hard data", the observations suggested prior disturbances from people were stopping wildlife from using the breakwater habitat.

Restricting access could also help solve the town’s gull problem by providing them a new home, he said.

"Creating suitable, undisturbed nesting habitat in coastal areas such as the breakwater could help encourage gulls off rooftops."

The council had been open and collaborative during its venture to restore public access.

"We have shared our knowledge and views to support them in their work — we look forward to continuing this relationship."

George Kelcher
George Kelcher
Community representative George Kelcher said at a harbour area committee meeting yesterday, machinery was working on the breakwater, and to his knowledge, with no detriment to animals.

He called Doc’s opposition "quite outrageous" and questioned who council staff were speaking to at the organisation.

"I actually wonder, at what level are we talking to Doc? From my past experiences [with] Doc ... it can be quite difficult, and maybe we need to be [going] further up the chain to get the answers that we should have, including going to Wellington," Mr Kelcher said.

Asset operation manager Joshua Rendell said there had been good discussions with local and regional representatives from Doc.

"It seems as though it is fairly positive. They’re concerned about the safety, as well as impact on wildlife. The impact ... is being assessed."

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