Whangateau HarbourCare Group: Finalists in the Green Ribbon Awards 2010

“The Green Ribbon Awards are an opportunity for the Government to acknowledge the exceptional contribution New Zealanders make in caring for our environment through their dedication and commitment.” Hon Dr Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment

“The Whangateau Harbour is recognised as one of the most unspoiled mainland estuaries in the Auckland region. Whangateau HarbourCare Group is a volunteer group set up to protect this estuary. The Group has taken action to inform locals about planting to support eroding hills and coastlines, weed and pest control, and maintenance of the quality of the water in the estuary and contributing streams. A foreshore restoration project is currently planned.”

“Success with weed control and increased vegetation for streams and hillsides has been accompanied by growing public awareness of the great value of marine fauna and flora. Members regularly monitor cockle numbers and pressed for rapid action to ban cockle taking after a recent large scale die-off. The Group recently created a photo exhibition which has travelled extensively in the north, informing people of the importance of small harbours and the need to protect them. Locally the exhibition was accompanied by outdoor events, to emphasise both the beauty and fun of the water.”

It was not until we arrived in Wellington that the scale of the event began to unfold. We were met at the airport and a number of shuttle buses were needed to take the group of finalists to the Novotel Hotel. The Ministry for the Environment had invited the finalists to send two representatives to attend the ceremony in Wellington, providing airport transfers, lunch, tour of Te Papa and dinner for both but accommodation and breakfast only for one! Mfe paid for Roger and Whangateau HarbourCare Group paid my airfare. Finalists ranged from large businesses and local government to school projects and community volunteers. The projects also varied widely from beach clean-ups and habitat restoration to resource recovery parks.

Once we had checked in, we returned to the lobby where we were officially welcomed, given our official identity labels and invited to enjoy a three course lunch in the dining room. Then we boarded a bus that took us to Te Papa where we were greeted by guides who had organised for us a tour programme that focussed on the land, its peoples and the history of their impact on the environment. We were divided into three smaller groups, each with our own guide. This was my first visit to Te Papa and I was so excited and impressed by the extent and quality of the exhibits and the creative manner of their display. I’m definitely going to return soon and spend at least a week absorbing the intensity of it all.

First of all, our guide took us outside and into a grove of native plants and trees. Here he explained the way Maori used some of the plants: kawakawa leaves, ripe when there are holes in them, were used as a treatment for various ailments including headaches, either brewed as a tea or pressed against the temples; chewing the leaves helped to alleviate toothache; poroporo, berries provided fruit for children to eat and leaves were used to line the hangi to enhance the flavour of meat; European settlers used the berries to make jam and pies (related to deadly nightshade, the unripe fruit and uncooked foliage is poisonous); flax (harakeke and wharariki) for weaving to make clothing.

He pointed out that the early Maori settlers used the bounty of the land and were just beginning to realise the need to conserve its flora and fauna when European settlers arrived and, once again, carelessly used all that the land and sea could provide.

I have to confess I thought I was looking at some prehistoric skeleton suspended from the ceiling but Roger assured me it was actually the skeleton of a blue whale. I’ve seen orca near the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound and I’ve seen the southern right whale that visited Omaha Beach last year but the size of this creature really stretched the limits of my imagination.

By contrast, the reproduction of the moa was not as big as I had anticipated.

We walked on through an area that shook and rumbled, reminding us that New Zealand is part of the Pacific ‘rim of fire’ and we came to ‘the meeting place of the world’s peoples’. Here our guide invited us to sit while he welcomed us with a traditional mihimihi in Maori. He explained that the traditional carver invited to design and create the carved panels had refused to cut down native totara for the work. Instead he opted to use the modern mdf which he had discovered was malleable when wet so mistakes or damage could be repaired. Not only was this material environmentally sustainable, it also enabled the creation of vividly colourful and intricately carved panels that represent every race and creed on earth.

From the meetinghouse we looked out through this magnificent stained glass window

From the meetinghouse we looked out through this magnificent stained glass window

Back at the Novotel, we changed for dinner and gathered in the foyer for the formal presentation of the finalists’ certificates. Then it was on to the bus for the short trip to the Beehive where we went through security screening and were presented with our programme for the presentation of the awards, new name tags and green ribbon rosettes. For a while it seemed that guests would not be allowed to take cameras into the banqueting hall. However, our helpful guide, Allison Bockstruck from mfe, prevailed upon the security staff – mind you, she had her own camera with her too. Roger was quite relieved as he’d already been clicking away! Neither of us was sure what category we had been nominated for but, looking through our programmes, we discovered that we were one of nine nominees in the category: Protecting our coasts and oceans.

We were really rather excited to realise that we had made it to the final three and began to look forward to meeting the other finalists. Sarah Robinson, environmental education officer at Rodney District Council, had nominated us for this Green Award. Thank you Sarah for your confidence in the Whangateau HarbourCare Group. Grants from RDC and ARC have been of great assistance in making it possible for us to promote the need to protect our harbour and its environs.

The pre-dinner drinks in the banqueting hall provided a good opportunity to meet and talk with the other finalists. Winner of the ‘Caring for our water’ category was The Waitakere Twin Streams Project, New Zealand’s largest storm water mitigation and environmental restoration project. As relatively near neighbours, representatives Tony Miguel and Dot Dalziell were keen to find out what activities Whangateau HarbourCare Group was involved in. They were particularly interested in our ten point plan for the protection of the harbour and were keen to explore the possibility of working cooperatively with our group. In Waitakere, local communities – schools clubs and groups are working to restore the riparian margins on 56kms of stream bank. It was also very interesting to learn of the commitment of the Waitakere Council to ensuring that septic tanks were pumped out annually.

There was a platter of dips including tzatziki, hummus and eggplant with Dukkah spiced pita crisps and a Sushi platter featuring an assortment of nori rolls, uramaki and nigiri sushi with soy and ginger dipping sauce at each end of every table and a seating plan for dinner with at least one MP, usually from the electorate of the winner, seated at each table.

At the head of our table was Peseta Sam Lotu-Liga, MP for Maungakiekie. He talked with us about HarbourCare Group issues and was so impressed with our ten-point plan that he went off to find Nicky Wagener, national MP on the Blue/Green Committee. He introduced us and gave her a copy of the plan. She spent quite some time with us discussing the work of our group. Also at our table were the representatives of Hukanui Primary School whose students conceived, designed, funded and built an eco-classroom they call ‘The Living Room’. A water tank stores roof water for the garden, a wood burner enclosed in earth walls supplies heating and the class is monitoring the effectiveness of three different insulation materials (polystyrene, recycled glass, volcanic pumice) beneath the thick slab floor.

At last, the Hon Dr Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment was introduced and the formal part of the evening began. “Thirteen organisations – from across New Zealand – have tonight been honoured at the 20th annual Green Ribbon Awards, for making an outstanding contribution to protecting the environment. “These awards recognise those who are taking practical action to deal with environmental challenges such as climate change, water quality, biodiversity and waste,” said Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith. “I congratulate all the winners and finalists for going the extra mile to protect and enhance New Zealand’s environment.”

Photos showcasing the work of each nominee were shown on the large screen. Then Dr Smith announced the winner and called on the appropriate electorate MP to present the award. The first six category winners were: Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust for its work with landowners to conserve biodiversity on private land; Landcare Research for its efforts in reducing greenhouse gas levels through the carboNZero programme; Waitakere City Council for improving streams and waterways in Auckland through the successful Project Twin Streams; Envirofert Limited for diverting large quantities of waste from landfill by recycling organic waste into compost; Sleepyhead Manufacturing Company Limited for its new technology allowing for environmentally sound manufacturing.

‘Protecting our coasts and oceans and the winner is: Sustainable Coastlines Incorporated, for its projects that help improve coastal environments.’ Two young men, Sam Judd and Camden Howitt, stepped up to receive the award of a beautiful glass koru. These young men were so enthusiastic about coordinating and supporting thousands of volunteers to carry out local projects to improve their coastal environment, removing more than 75 tonnes of waste from coastlines. Both of them seemed to be involved fulltime in this work and they were very interested to talk with Roger about his work monitoring the improvement in crayfish stocks since the creation of the Tawharanui Marine Reserve. The other finalist in this category was Karen Warren, author of ‘Rolling Stones – Nelson’s Boulder Bank, Its Place in our History and Hearts’. The book grew from a project aimed at stopping vandalism of the bank, the largest known boulder bank of its kind in the world.

After the presentation of the first six category winners came the very tasty main course: Harissa roasted breast of Rangitikei chicken with saffron couscous, courgette ribbons, light tagine sauce and Medjool date chutney. (Roger was served a vegetarian version in a stuffed, roasted capsicum.)

Then followed the announcement and presentation of the other six category winners: Hukanui Primary School for its eco-classroom – planned, designed and built by the students; Environmental Education for Resource Sustainability Trust (EERST) for increasing recycling rates and environmental awareness in schools; Splashroom Limited for inspiring action on environmental issues through filmmaking; The New Zealand Wine Company Limited for making quality wine with minimal environmental impact; Resene Paints Limited for producing environmentally friendly paint products; Palmerston North City Council for its successful resource recovery centre.

We thought dessert, a delicious Gala apple tarte tartin with crème fraiche ice cream, dessert wine jelly, apple caramel and apple sherbet would mark the end of the presentations. But no! There was a frisson of excitement with the announcement of the supreme winner: Kaharoa Kokako Trust for its impressive predator control efforts and their significant role in the national kokako recovery programme. Based in the Bay of Plenty the Trust has increased the number of kokako from 12 pairs when they started in 1997 to an impressive 121 adults in 2006’. This was a particularly popular and well deserved choice. The winners were presented with a very beautiful blue and green glass vase mounted in a timber base. There was a sharp intake of breath when the vase dropped out of its base and a collective sigh of relief when it bounced and was retrieved undamaged.

The conversations continued over tea and coffee until the bus arrived to take us all back to the Novotel.

I was very pleased to be able to stay overnight with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a long time and next morning, on our way to the airport, she took me back to Te Papa to show me the magnificent feather cloak and bonnet presented to Captain Cook in Hawaii. It was incredibly beautiful; an amazing handcrafted work of art.

Here are Roger’s photos from the return flight…

Kapiti Island off the Wellington coast. Mountains Tongariro, Ngaruahoe and snow covered Ruapehu. It is disturbing to see the effects of run-off from the land into the waterways, after sustained heavy rainfall, as this photo of the Waikato River at Waikato Heads, clearly shows.

I would be very interested to see an aerial photo of our Whangateau Harbour taken after days of heavy rain such as we have had during these past few weeks. I have certainly noted a widespread browning of the water, especially south of the causeway and I suspect the Omaha River would be seen as a ribbon of mud heavy water spreading its tentacles through the harbour on an outgoing tide. If we think silting is having a negative impact on the harbour and possibly contributing to an explosion of the mangrove population, then we need to do even more to protect our harbour and its catchment.

“This country is only as wealthy as the talent of its people. The Green Ribbon Awards are an opportunity for the Government to acknowledge the exceptional contribution New Zealanders are making to ensuring that our environment is looked after.” Dr Nick Smith

2010 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Green Ribbon Awards and I am so glad I was given the opportunity to represent Whangateau HarbourCare Group on this occasion. It opened my eyes to the enthusiasm and commitment of so many volunteers and the scale of their involvement in trying to protect and sustain our environment. Margaret Levesque Simpson

Resources: Press Release: New Zealand Government, Green Ribbon Award winners announced. Ministry for the Environment, Green Ribbon Awards 2010 Programme

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