Sunday, June 23, 2024

Muriwai Beach barricade breach leaves wildlife exposed

Auckland Council says a Muriwai Beach access gate has been opened and heavy concrete barricades moved in a blatant breach of its temporary beach closure to vehicles this summer – with the move leaving vulnerable wildlife exposed to danger.

The Council says five two-tonne concrete blocks were shunted to the side of Wilson Road beyond the access gate earlier this month.

Auckland Council’s Regional Parks Principal Specialist, Stephen Bell says tyre tracks indicate a vehicle, or vehicles, then bypassed those barriers to access the beach.

Police are aware of the trespass, which contravenes a vehicle restriction in place at Muriwai Beach from 29 December 2023 until 15 January 2024. This temporary measure, which is set to reoccur for the next three years, aims to protect people, wildlife, a fragile dune system and the adjacent Woodhill Forest area during a high-risk peak summer period.

“Any breach of the vehicle restriction, or dangerous driving on the beach, should be reported immediately to police on *555, noting the time and location of this activity, as well any details to help identify a driver and vehicle,” Mr Bell says.

“We are very grateful locals have acted quickly in this instance to secure the Wilson Road accessway with a new padlock. However, the disregard for safety shown by whoever opened the gate is a major concern.”

January is often the busiest month at Muriwai Beach and the regional park when families and holidaymakers gravitate in their hundreds towards the setting sun and surf.  

Council Park Rangers are urging anyone planning to drive on the beach now that vehicle restrictions have lifted to slow down when passing people, birdlife or animals, and remember to always give way.  

Malcolm Paterson, Tumuaki / Chief Executive of Ngā Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara Ngahere Ltd, represents the hapū landowner of Woodhill Forest. The Ngahere team works closely with rangers on protecting the adjacent beach and to manage illegal activity that puts the forest and broader environment at risk.

He acknowledges that kororā / little penguin fledging chicks will soon leave safe nesting homes in the dunes to head out to sea.

“What should be a simple task for these birds, which are declining in number, to waddle across the beach, becomes a major challenge when there are vehicles to dodge and tyre tracks to navigate,” he says.

“Juvenile kekeno /seal pups are also setting off to explore West Coast beaches on their own. Driving up into the dunes (which is not permitted as they are designated conservation strips) can kill, and destroy the habitat of, the rare, local korowai gecko.

“Reckless, thoughtless driving also puts other beach-users at risk and impacts on responsible folk being able to enjoy themselves. Together, we can ensure this coastline remains a taonga – but everyone must take responsibility for looking after it and acknowledge that we share it with each other and many other more vulnerable creatures,” Malcolm says.

Only two West Coast beaches in the Auckland region currently permit responsible four-wheel driving – Muriwai and Karioitahi, provided drivers first obtain a permit from the council, and have a registered and warranted vehicle.  

However, the impact of this activity on both beaches has prompted recognition that new measures must be considered to ensure further protection and safety. One future initiative at Muriwai Beach may be the installation of a control point, which will only allow permitted vehicles to access the beach.

The council recently introduced permit cancellations to deter unsafe driving and staff are assessing the feasibility of infringement fines for drivers or the registered vehicle owner of any vehicles breaching the rules.

A kororā / little penguin navigates tyre tracks crossing Muriwai Beach.
A kororā / little penguin navigates tyre tracks crossing Muriwai Beach.

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