“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” So said organisational consultant Margaret J Wheatly. A great example of this is a not so-quiet stirring now occurring at Whangaroa. A number of locals are so concerned for the health of their harbour they have informally called for a land development rahui (a prohibition against a particular area or activity, typically temporary, placed in order to protect a resource). They want a halt on development until issues are investigated and measures taken to rectify problems they are witnessing in their harbour. These include sediment build up contributing to the loss of pipi beds, and white-sand beaches to picnic on all but disappearing in less than a generation. The issues they are concerned about have developed over many, many years and there is no single culprit or an easy solution.
This is not the only harbour under serious threat. Kaipara Harbour currently has around 700,000 tonnes of sediment entering it every year! It is one of the largest harbours in the world, and if nothing is done it could become the world’s largest mudflat – not something to encourage in any measure. The local kaitiaki have plans to reduce this by 60 per cent and are making excellent progress getting commitments to make this happen.
We must remember that this is not just about the health of Whangaroa. This is an issue impacting harbours across our district and New Zealand. Our waterways are precious taonga and not a commodity, nor a dumping ground. So what can be done to address what some might see as an overwhelming task or even an impossibility? Firstly, something must be done, overwhelming or not. The journey must commence, before one of our most treasured harbours loses its natural resilience, declines further and runs the risk of becoming a lifeless body.
Whatever the solution may look like, it must be led by local people. They are the kaitiaki, it is their backyard, their taiao. Their aroha for their place will ensure decisions are made in the best interests of the ongoing wellbeing of the harbour, now and for future generations. And to be fair, it is future generations that will most benefit from sound decisions made today.
The key to success will be an innovative, collaborative approach. The community empowered to lead and the rest of us, especially government agencies, in behind to support and provide resources as required. It needs to be smart, it needs to be timely and it needs to be inclusive. It will take courage and some very brave conversations that will require an open heart and a vision for what can be.
I believe it is possible. I am looking forward to the coming conversations that will see a collective mandated to lead. One I believe will set a framework for others to follow.