The volunteers helping to hold back the sea

19 Jun 2023, 4:44 PM

A group of local volunteers can be credited for helping to hold back the sea along eight hectares of the Waitohu Stream estuary at the northern end of Ōtaki Beach – and it wasn’t even what they initially set out to achieve.

“Our mission when we established the Waitohu Stream Care Group 23 years ago was to address the pollution and erosion we were seeing in the stream,” says Lynda Angus, an officer of the group.

“With some funding from Greater Wellington Regional Council, we established a nursery to grow locally sourced seeds which we transplanted to the estuary. We quickly realised we needed to factor in the health of the nearby wetlands and dunes as it’s all connected, so we expanded our scope.”

Dune restoration, which provides natural protection from coastal erosion and flooding, soon became a key focus for the group. With support from Kāpiti Coast District Council, volunteers started to fill gaps in the dunes with logs and, once enough sand had been captured, planting species to hold it in place.

“Dunes are highly evolved, dynamic natural ecosystems that not only protect what’s behind them, they sustain our beaches and create habitat for some amazing plants and birds,” says Lynda.

“Despite the pelting they take from wind and waves they are actually really fragile. What makes them resilient is the vegetation that grows on them. Our work has focused on re-establishing the foredune with spinifex and pīngao, and we are now progressively planting the back dunes as well.”

A single spinifex plant can trap 16 cubic metres of sand a year which makes it the perfect plant for quickly rebuilding dunes and restoring the natural landscape character. Dunes can now mend themselves after storms which is the wonder of spinifex and their long roots and runners.

Now known as the Waitohu Stream and Dune Care Group, the work of its volunteers has been recognised by numerous environmental awards, including the Wellington Region Conservation Award, National Green Ribbon Award, NZ Plant Conservation Network Award, the Dune Restoration Trust of NZ Award, and the Wellington Airport Regional Community Awards.

“When you see the thriving estuary and dunes today it's hard to imagine what was there previously.  It's a wonderful resource for the people of Kāpiti to enjoy, and it is a great example of how land and rivers can be remediated in a team approach between councils and volunteers,” says Lynda.

Keen to get involved?

Saturday 24 June is World Sand Dune Day, a day to recognise the importance of sand dunes – and a great opportunity to get involved!

The Waitohu Stream and Dune Care Group are always on the hunt for new volunteers at their nursery on Moana Street, Ōtaki.   

They are also happy to host school and community groups, business and government employee groups for a once-a-year community contribution, anything that supports and educates people about our coastal vulnerabilities and remedial work to protect our precious environment.

For the second year running, Council will donate several hundred spinifex for children and families to plant during a Matariki event on Monday 10 July, from 9.30 - 11 am. The Group will organise the planting, followed by sharing of kai. Contact Lynda on 020 4596 321 or at [email protected] to register your interest.

Also keep an eye out at Ōtaki Library for a photo display, between Monday 10 and Saturday 29 July, showing the difference 23 years of hard restoration work has made to the Waitohu Stream estuary and surrounding dune system.

Want to learn more about dune restoration?

Want to learn more about the awesome work our community is doing to take care of our dunes? Check out this video series produced by the Coastal Restoration Trust to raise awareness of dune restoration in Kāpiti.