· Gisborne is fortunate to have networks of streams, rivers and wetlands connecting the city

· Gisborne is fortunate to have networks of streams, rivers and wetlands connecting the city

By Mayor of Gisborne, New Zealand-- Meng Foon

Summary:Gisborne is fortunate to have networks of streams, rivers and wetlands connecting the city. Unfortunately most of these are not flourishing examples of biodiversity. The water quality in the Waikanae Creek has been affected by historical rubbish dumped along its banks, although it was originally a thriving fishery, providing a vital source of food for inhabitants along the creek. Therefore, Gisborne District Council with several related organizations organised the activities on restoration of Waikanae Creek into its original biodiversity haven, which encourages a plenty of children getting stuck in, showing the new generation has an interest in taking responsibility for the health of our environment.

My name is Meng Foon – Taishan and Seyip of Guangdong China, these are the roots of my parents and I was born in Gisborne, New Zealand, I have been mayor since 2001
As this is my first essay for your publication, I reflect back to what we use to do for the environment to what we do now.

My environmental stewardship comes from my many uncles and aunties here in Tairawhiti, they tell me that looking after Papatuanuku – Mother Earth is paramount to anything else, as without mother earth we will perish

In Tairawhiti we have many iwi – tribes, Ngati Porou, Ngai Tamanuhiri, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Te whanau a kai, Ngaariki kai Putahi.

These tribes in our region are the first to settle here in around 1100, they have a spiritual and physical connection the land, their whakapapa – family roots go back to the Pacific and Taiwan.
They are the Kaitieki - guardians of our place and ensure they keep organisations like the Gisborne District Council in front of all environmental matters.

They are Kaitieki of the past, present and future. Tairawhiti iwi are here forever as they are guardians of their customary land forever

Waikanae is a special place in our city – Gisborne. This creek flows from Makaraka along our foreshore to the mouth of the Waikanae and our to the Te Moananui a Kiwa - Pacific Ocean
Waikanae is an Tipuna – ancestor who was a great fisherman, the abundance of Kanae – Mullet was a great source of kai – food for the iwi of that area.

Hence last year we started a project of restoration

A cleaner Waikanae Creek

In late September another clean-up was organised along the Waikanae Creek as part of Clean up New Zealand Week. The event was supported by Te Ora Hou Trust, Keep Gisborne Beautiful, Gisborne District Council, the Women’s Native Tree Project and the Department of Conservation.

The clean-up resulted in nearly one and a half tonnes of rubbish removed from the waterway and banks of the creek by a group of 70 volunteers.

The majority of rubbish was plastics with an awful lot of small pieces of polystyrene amongst the mud and creek bank vegetation. There were plenty of children getting stuck in which shows the new generation has an interest in taking responsibility for the health of our environment. Additional to the rubbish collection, an area of the creek bank upstream of the Grey Street Bridge was cleared of weeds and planted in native trees and shrubs donated by the Women’s Native Tree Project. A few keen young painters also gave the Grey Street Bridge a re-vamp to add to the tidy-up.

The healthiest of our urban waterways are those which have been looked after and planted. Gisborne is fortunate to have networks of streams, rivers and wetlands connecting the city.

Unfortunately most of these are not flourishing examples of biodiversity. The water quality in the Waikanae Creek has been affected by historical rubbish dumped along its banks. Low lying land either side of the creek was previously used as a landfill. The mix of industrial and residential neighbours means that when it rains, there is always a risk of contaminants entering the creek from runoff. Businesses close to the creek reserve have been encouraged to help support conservation efforts along the creek by sponsoring plants, topsoil and fertiliser and giving staff time to help out the planting events.

Standing on the creek bed, looking at all the plastic and rubble exposed amongst the mud, it made me wonder what the history of the creek was and at what point it became so degraded. Through reading books, discussions with Jody Wyllie from the Tairawhiti Museum and historic Council employees, it seems the Waikanae Creek was originally a thriving fishery, providing a vital source of food for inhabitants along the creek which, unfortunately over time, turned into a mistreated and neglected waterway as Industries thrived in Poverty Bay.

History of the Waikanae creek

The Waikanae creek was historically a narrow tidal estuary with a small channel meandering through mudflats. In the deed of Settlements Schedule, the statements of association for Rongowhakaata outline the cultural, historical and spiritual importance of the Waikanae Creek to them. The naming of Waikanae is derived form Wai – fresh water springs which attracted the treasured delicacy of Rongowhakaata, the fish Mullet – Kanae. At various locations from the mouth of the Waikanae Creek to the headwaters at Te Kuri a Tuatai there are puna (fresh water springs) which flow into the waterway. Pa tuna (eel weirs) were a constant feature of the Waikanae waterways over many generations. Ngai Tawhiti whanau recall the abundance of flounder, eel, herrings and kingfish in the creek. In writings of Cook’s first landing, a settlement on the southern side of the Waikanae Creek was described, which consisted of 4 or 5 huts and a ground oven. Moa footprints are also believed to have been discovered on the left bank of the Waikanae Creek.

The Waikanae Creek had an important role (together with the Taruheru River) to act as an overflow outlet for floods from the Waipaoa River. When the Waipaoa River Flood Control Scheme, constructed between 1953 and 1973, was finalised the reliance on the channel capacity of the Waikanae and Taruheru waterways were not considered as critical in a flooding event. During the late 19th century and 20th century there was substantial reclamation of the mudflats by the NZ Railways, Watties, the former Gisborne City Council, and other public and private organisations, to the extent that only short reaches of the original estuary now remains.

The first series of larger landfills in Gisborne was at a site that is now Alfred Cox Park. This 2.2ha landfill was first used in 1956 and was sited on swamp land considered unproductive and unsightly. In 1968, the former Gisborne City Council established another disposal facility on swampland near the aerodrome. The 3.5ha landfill was located between Oates Street and the aerodrome. Since the start of these reclamations along the creek, some people have jumped in to add to the problem and it is not uncommon to see household rubbish dumped along the creek banks. Now days, if you look at the creek bed more closely, you will notice, bricks, hard fill, metal, glass and any other non-biodegradable products making the creek home in the absence of fish life.

What we are doing now

History is changing, more and more people are conscious about the health of our aquatic environment and how our actions affect its natural state. Combined efforts like the Waikanae Creek clean ups, are a great way to really make a positive difference to the future of our waterways as well as give a natural good feeling to those who participate in the group efforts.

It is exciting to know that in the near future, extensions will continue on the current walk and cycle ways along the waterways. A resource consent application by GDC has been lodged which will include an upgrade of the current path within Alfred Cox Park following the Waikanae Creek as well as the installation of a new bridge that will connect the park to the walkway from Awapuni School to Stanley Road. The banks of the creek may soon be a thriving area of activity and enjoyment for the community as people come to value the creek once more.

If you live near a waterway and wish to put in an effort to beautify the area, the recently updated, ‘Streamside Planting Guide’ is available on the GDC website, which has an easy to follow step-by-step guide to native planting on urban streamsides. By following the planting guide, you will help restore your stream bank into its original biodiversity haven. If you are keen on joining a group effort, keep an eye out for advertisements in the Gisborne Herald. You could also look up and like the Tairawhiti Environment Centres face book page for updates on events and initiatives.