Otokia Creek a ‘very special’ place

Otokia Creek and Marsh Habitat Trust members and volunteers (from left) Colin Astle, Matthew York...
Otokia Creek and Marsh Habitat Trust members and volunteers (from left) Colin Astle, Matthew York, Andy Hutcheon, Kris Mullen, and Viktoria Kahui gather at the Otokia Marsh recently. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Protecting and preserving the Otokia Creek catchment near Brighton is a labour of love for members of the Otokia Creek and Marsh Habitat Trust.

Formed in October last year, as a response to the Dunedin City Council’s proposal to install a landfill at Smooth Hill, the trust aims to restore and protect the habitats of the creek and marsh for the many native species who call it home.

Getting stuck in to the riparian planting are (from left) Dennis Kahui, Andy Hutcheon, Heath...
Getting stuck in to the riparian planting are (from left) Dennis Kahui, Andy Hutcheon, Heath Rattan, and Kris Mullen.
The trust aims to foster long-term engagement with the local school and community, and to provide public access to the marsh catchment for walking, nature viewing, and education.

The Otago Regional Council has named Otokia a regionally significant wetland and, in December, awarded the trust a $21,659 Eco Fund grant for its ongoing protection efforts, community engagement, and establishing a native plant nursery.

Volunteer Colin Astle combines a love for working outdoors with care for the wetland as a...
Volunteer Colin Astle combines a love for working outdoors with care for the wetland as a volunteer for the Otokia trust.
The Otokia Creek rises in the area of McLaren Gully Rd and runs for 13km downhill to meet the sea at Brighton Beach beside the surf club.

The creek has a catchment area of 27.1sq km, which includes farms, exotic forestry, lifestyle blocks, and areas of scrub and gorse on Department of Conservation land.

As Otokia creek reaches the flat, about 3km from Brighton beach, it widens out and slows down into an estuary with extensive marsh areas.

The Otokia Creek flows swiftly as it heads downhill towards the marsh.
The Otokia Creek flows swiftly as it heads downhill towards the marsh.
Surveys have shown the creek and marsh are home to short and long-fin eels, kokopu, fresh water shrimp, and giant bullies, and provides a habitat for water birds, including black stilt/kaki, royal spoonbills, mallard ducks, oyster catchers, white herons, pied stilts and paradise ducks.

Creek and Marsh Habitat Trust members Simon Laing (chairman), Matthew York (secretary), Dr Viktoria Kahui (treasurer), Dr Andy Hutcheon, and Ann-Claire Mauger, have been working with volunteers Kris Mullen of Wildwood Ecoforestry, Colin Astle, and others, to plant natives, cut gorse and clear weeds.

Since late 2020, more than 200 volunteer hours have been spent on native restoration and monitoring, and more than 500 native species planted.

Dr Kahui, who is also an environmental economist, said the group’s aim was "to not only conserve the habitat, but to benefit the people of Brighton — we want to be able to provide access, so people can utilise it".

"Having the marsh here is very special — the birdlife in the area is amazing."

Kris Mullen of Wildwood Ecoforestry started planting natives in the area more than eight years ago, and has been delighted to see the project gaining momentum and support within the Brighton community.

A water monitoring unit set up and owned by Matthew York of Hydrology Services Otago. PHOTO:...
A water monitoring unit set up and owned by Matthew York of Hydrology Services Otago. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"The more native trees we can plant to shade the creek and marsh, the cooler the water will be, and the better it will be for the fish and birds," Mr Mullen said.

Dr Kahui said wetlands provided important "ecosystem services", including habitat for fish and birds, areas for recreation, water filtration and flood protection.

Wetlands worldwide and in New Zealand were under threat, and recently-introduced government legislation to deal with the continued loss of river quality and habitat was welcome, Dr Kahui said.

"But regulation is only a first step, we need a more flexible management system that can deal with the future challenges of climate change."

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