Biodiversity flourishes at Tutaepatu Lagoon

Tutaepatu Lagoon near Woodend Beach is being transformed from a weed-infested waterway into an indigenous coastal ecosystem thanks to $200,000 of restoration funding from the Waimakariri water zone committee.

Over 30, 000 native trees have been planted around the edge of the lagoon over the last five years using the funding which is part of Environment Canterbury’s Immediate Steps programme.

Grey willow and old man’s beard have been removed along with more than 800 pest animals to allow native species such as kahikatea, mudfish, morepork and bittern to thrive throughout the lagoon area.

Tūhaitara Coastal Park general manager Greg Byrnes describes the progress as “phenomenal”.

“We’re seeing a much wider range of species in the lagoon and park area now and that’s due to the native planting providing a greater range of food sources and also the trapping of predators, especially hedgehogs which eat chicks and eggs.”

Greg is delighted to see increasing numbers of native birds and rare indigenous species like Canterbury mudfish returning to the lagoon which was surrounded by exotic weeds when the restoration project began in 2010.

“We’re seeing a much wider range of birds in and around the lagoon from wildfowl to forest birds like the kingfisher, fantail and bellbird. This means that the work we’re doing is really paying off and is helping to transform the lagoon back to the way nature intended it to be.”

Cultural elements of the project are also highly valued as the lagoon is the burial site of the founder of the Kaiapoi pa.

Greg says traditional food gathering and medicinal plants are important concepts for the project.

“Mahinga kai and rongoā (traditional medicine) are being woven into the work we’re doing at Tutaepatu. Selecting plants which provide for these values and creating an ecosystem where mahinga kai species like tuna can thrive is really important.”

Seventeen biota nodes which act as mini ecosystems have been set up to help educate local children about the importance of biodiversity.

“The idea with the nodes is to establish native biodiversity in small parcels throughout the park and to allow them to perform as natural areas. We’ve been able to transfer plants and native species like mudfish from the lagoon into the biota nodes.”

While plenty of progress has been made, Greg says the project still has a long way to go and will require the next generation to play a leading role.

“This is not a project which will be finished in my lifetime. It’s a 200 year vision which means that it will take generations to restore the area to a fully functioning indigenous coastal ecosystem. We’re doing this for future generations to enjoy.”