• Climate hub
  • 5 Jul 2022
  • 4 min read

Our sustainable communities: Bay of Plenty

Through wetland restoration and grassroots projects, Bay of Plenty is both battling climate change and working to protect the community from its potential impact.

By Amy Hamilton Chadwick

Student volunteers helping restore a local wetland
Student volunteers helping restore a local wetland

The Bay of Plenty is famous for its beautiful beaches, its thriving dairy industry and its delicious kiwifruit and avocadoes. It’s home to around 340,000 people who get to enjoy this special local environment – and they want to protect it for future generations.

With its coastal cities and its high proportion of agricultural land, the Bay of Plenty faces considerable risk from climate change. For example, a 2019 forecast found rising sea levels would endanger 1180 Tauranga properties over the next century. 

But the region is doing what it can to address climate change. Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council has set a target of being carbon zero by 2050, along with reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, adapting for a changing climate and building engaged and resilient communities.

Coastal wetlands: heroes in the battle against climate change

Some of the most important work being done to fight climate change in the Bay of Plenty region is in wetland restoration.

Restoring mauri to Kopurererua Valley

Less than 1% remains of the shallow wetlands that are now the plains of Waihi, Rangataiki and Kaituna – it’s estimated wetlands once covered 40,000 hectares. Wetlands are an outstanding tool in the fight against climate change, with some types of wetlands sequestering four times as much carbon as indigenous forests. They filter water and provide essential habitats for native wildlife, increasing biodiversity. Coastal wetlands also provide protection from rising sea levels and storm surges, so they work to both reduce and mitigate the impact of climate change.

“We’ve done a lot of work in wetland restoration, working with landowners on areas that were once wetlands, to convert them back,” says Laverne Mason, Integrated Catchments Programme Manager for Toi Moana Bay of Plenty District Council. “We recently opened the new Waiau wetland to tidal waters for the first time.” It’s taken a massive amount of planting and digging to bring the water back into part of this 65-hectare site, restoring it closer to its original wetland state.

Locals will also be familiar with the work done on the Te Pourepo o Kaituna wetland creation project. The Council is restoring 70 hectares of pasture back to a wetland state, where plants and animals can flourish, and people can also enjoy walking, bird watching and whitebaiting. Hundreds of kids from regional schools have been among those involved in the planting and restoration efforts, with eight schools visiting Kaituna to learn more about the important role coastal wetlands play in protecting our environment. (If you’re interested in protecting a wetland in your area, the Council publishes a helpful guide to wetland restoration.)

In late 2021, Bay of Plenty wetlands have been one of several sites being explored as potential sources of ‘blue carbon’ credits, which could provide financing for similar projects in future.

Planting and stopbanks for flood protection

Other waterways are also vital parts of the region’s climate change protection plans. The risk of adverse weather events is increasing, and flooding is the region’s most frequent natural hazard. To help protect against flooding, the Council manages 380kms of stopbanks. It plants nearly one million trees a year, and many support the banks of waterways. In total, all the trees and shrubs planted in the past year by the Council will, over the next 80 years, remove more than 300,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.

“It’s a many-years programme,” explains Laverne. “The edges of our waterways can become degraded, which is a problem during heavy rainfall. We use riparian planting to create robust edges with vegetation, which reduces the risk of flooding – and flooding will probably become more frequent in the long term.”

Funding change at grassroots level

A recent round of funding offered applicants $5000 for projects supporting school resilience in climate change; 45 different projects applied and $50,000 was given away for small grassroots projects at the community level.

Other funding initiatives include free bus fares for school students, research into bus decarbonisation, the Wednesday Challenge and Envirohub, which delivers programmes like Sustainable Backyards and Predator Free.

“There are so many proactive and inspiring people in our schools and communities,” Laverne says. “All these small initiatives add to the improvements – as each person changes their behaviour, it filters into community and new groups of people see how achievable it is.”

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