Concern over Oreti closure proposals

Environment Southland councillor Lloyd Esler holds a toheroa he collected in the past at Oreti...
Environment Southland councillor Lloyd Esler holds a toheroa he collected in the past at Oreti Beach. PHOTOS: LUISA GIRAO
Some Southlanders are concerned vehicle access to one the region’s most popular beaches may be limited to save some shellfish.

Four options with varying degrees of restrictions are being proposed by Environment Southland to protect toheroa from the impact of vehicles at Oreti Beach in Invercargill.

At least one Environment Southland councillor says while it is good people are worried about the numbers of toheroa, the idea was "doomed to fail".

"It will be a disaster [to close] because Oreti Beach is a cultural icon," Cr Lloyd Esler said.

"The options proposed by Environment Southland did not include the logical one, which is leave it alone. Currently, there is a sustainable customary take, a healthy toheroa population and a beach accessible to vehicles as it has been for more than a century."

The toheroa population at Oreti Beach last week.PHOTO: LLOYD ESLER
The toheroa population at Oreti Beach last week.PHOTO: LLOYD ESLER
While toheroa is a native species of New Zealand, it was introduced to Oreti, Cr Esler said.

"Possibly brought to the beach in the late 1800s, where they have since thrived. They are genetically the same as North Island ones and had they been here earlier, they would be present in beach deposits and middens."

Cr Esler believed closing the beach would have a similar effect on the community as the closure of Southland Museum due to earthquake safety concerns.

"Loss of vehicle access means the end of floundering, surfing, sand yachts, the Burt Munro beach race, picnics for elderly people and many other things ... It would lose all the activities for a possibly no gain whatever on toheroa population."

Burt Munro Challenge committee chairman Craig Hyde agreed closing the whole beach would be a "huge loss" for the region and its economy.

He said the beach race was one of the most popular attractions during the event, attracting between 5000 and 10,000 spectators each year.

"It is one of the biggest events in Southland and lot of people come down to do what he [Burt] used to do — that was race in the beach. It is a bucket-list item for many.

"Everything from accommodation to sales in general would be affected, because the amount of people this event bring to the town."

Mr Hyde said the committee fully supported and understood the council’s concerns regarding the protection of toheroa.

Invercargill resident Craig Palmer took his son Flynn (5) to Oreti Beach yesterday. He said he...
Invercargill resident Craig Palmer took his son Flynn (5) to Oreti Beach yesterday. He said he would not be able to do that if Environment Southland decided to close the beach to vehicles.
He said members had been working alongside the council to ensure as little impact on the beach as possible.

"Ten years ago we used to run in the left side of the beach but we changed that because of the toheroa."

On the beach yesterday, Invercargill resident Craig Palmer said he also believed the community would not support the closure.

If restrictions were in place yesterday, he would not have been able to take his 5-year-old son Flynn to the beach to collect some shells.

The boy broke both legs last year and needed a wheelchair.

"It is school holidays and it is so hard to find things he can do outside when he is in a wheelchair. He loves to come to the beach.

"Probably, if I had to park and walk with him, we would not be able to do it."

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said it was estimated that vehicles increased mortality in young toheroa by at least 23%.

"Research has shown that restricting vehicles from the areas where juvenile toheroa live is likely to be the most effective way to provide them with the best chance of survival.”

Feedback on the proposals can be submitted online or via a survey from local council offices. Feedback closes on Friday, February 21.

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