Surfers for Cetaceans
I write this letter on the Raglan West Bridge alongside two hundred other concerned coastal people...
Led by Kiwi’s Against Seabed Mining (KASM) we walked silently through the streets of downtown Raglan holding signs of community opposition to proposed iron ore seabed mining in New Zealand’s coastal waters. We stand to show our concern for mining’s impact on New Zealand’s precious natural resources, including the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin.
Now we wait silently to usher Mr. Andrew Summerville, representative of the Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) mining company, who seek to mine for iron ore off the west coast of New Zealand. A group of local children bearing anti-mining signs will soon escort his vehicle across the bridge.
We, as representatives of Surfers For Cetaceans, were invited to Raglan to attend the annual Maui/Popoto Dolphin Day event, a celebration of a critically endangered species endemic to these waters.
Like most people from all over the world, we have come to Raglan because of the beauty, power and spirit that permeates this place. Like all surfers, we are here because of the incredible point waves, birds in the sky and sea life that makes you feel like there are still free, wild spaces in the world.
Seabed mining presents a stark contradiction to New Zealand’s clean green image and will adversely affect the nation’s number one export, tourism. Myriad unknowns in the realm of sand flow dynamics make the future of surf tourism uncertain in towns like Raglan, whose surf breaks would be under threat if nearby waters are mined.
Seabed mining is also potentially devastating to coastal ecosystems. The process disrupts bottom dwelling species, depletes oxygen and increases turbidity in the surrounding marine environment. Mining sites become virtually inhabitable. This is of particular significance for already threatened species like the Hector and Maui’s dolphins.
“I was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia when I was six years old,” notes Kiwi born professional free-surfer Dave Rastovich, co-founder of Surfers for Cetaceans.
“We moved to Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast. This is a wave once revered and visited by surfers from around the world. Around 2001 a sand-dredging project began twelve miles down the coast at Snapper Rocks. We were told the project would not affect the rest of the coastline and that the impacts would be contained around Snapper. Within months of the sand being moved two of the most famous waves in the world were destroyed by the disruption of sand flow—Burleigh Heads and Kirra. Neither have hosted the annual Quiksilver Pro since the dredging. Many surfers left Burleigh, myself among them. Even today many surfers petition to stop the sand dredging in order to bring Kirra back.
Admittedly, the hydrology and coastlines of the Gold Coast and Raglan differ, but what is similar is the importance of wave quality to the people and their future.”
“I come from a place where we were told the manipulation of sand was not going to negatively affect our greater region, yet it did just that! TTR is openly stating that there will be negative environmental impacts of some kind along the coast of New Zealand, yet they refuse to name them specifically. Not a good sign.”
We were invited to Raglan to learn about the plight of the Popoto/Maui dolphin that is on the brink of extinction and share that learning with surfing communities around the world. With only fifty-five Popoto dolphins alive in the entire world the species teeters on the edge of disappearing forever.
Generally speaking, unsustainable fishing practices brought this species to such tragically small numbers. Specifically, those practices that include the use of set nets, gill nets and trawling, which also wholly contribute to the depletion of fish stocks. This also implicates all who purchase fish captured using these methods in contributing to the decline of the Maui’s Dolphin. Ever had fish and chips in NZ?
A decrease in fish stocks means less food for the Popoto dolphin. If they do well in avoiding entanglement, they then need to compete against us and other top ocean predators in gaining a meal each day.
But wait, there’s more, say our local friends.
Enter seabed mining and why we are writing this letter from the middle of the bridge waiting for Mr. Andrew Sommerville.
To our new ears, it seems there are so many unknown components to the practice of seabed mining. Is seabed mining worth risking the extinction of an entire species? Is it worth risking the entire future of Raglan's ecology and economy to benefit foreign companies?
Any person who lives near water of any kind knows that every action ripples out and affects the space around it, 360 degrees. Mining anywhere near this coastline will assuredly have an impact on the local wavescape and well-being of all those who dwell within and around those waves.
We have seen the impacts of seafloor manipulation on the Gold Coast, Mundaka, Spain, and at a multitude of other degraded waves around the world. Undoubtedly seabed mining will endanger the already threatened Popoto dolphin, and endanger the future of the waves at Raglan.
So, we stand on this bridge in solidarity to send TTR a strong message that sand mining will not happen here.
It is not too late to get involved and pay respect to all that makes this place special. Please join the KASM crew and their efforts. The Raglan community is not alone in this journey. We are united by the wish to live by, and surf in, clean water and waves filled with diverse species.
The loss of a species anywhere on Planet Ocean is a global issue. Let’s show the New Zealand government that we, the people of the planet, are watching. Sign the petitions and support the Raglan community!
Words by Lauren Hill
Lauren Hill, free surfer, thinker and cool chick. Lauren is an educated, passionate person concerned about our ocean and marine animals. Focused on treading softly on the earth and living a sustainable lifestyle while raising awareness and catching some waves.
Lauren's new project is TheSeakin.com, an environmental and cultural organisation of people interconnected by a higher sense of responsibility for the planet. Which has come from traveling and meeting amazing, passionate women and men taking responsibility for their slice of ocean.