Conservationist petitions for ban on beach driving

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A sea lion rests at Surat Bay in The Catlins. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN

AN Invercargill conservationist wants vehicles banned from key Catlins beaches.

Environmental group Sea Society founder Sian Mair believes wildlife at southern beauty spots Surat Bay and Cannibal Bay, near Owaka, would be better off without having to contend with cars, ATVs and motorbikes.

The 25-year-old Southern Institute of Technology environmental management student told the Otago Daily Timesshe was shocked during a recent visit to the area to see an ATV and truck “buzzing” a resting sea lion at Surat Bay.

Dunedin had a bylaw preventing non-emergency vehicle access to its beaches, and she did not understand why The Catlins should not also have one.

“New Zealand sea lions are endangered, and it’s a privilege for us to be able to see them in their natural habitat.

“Allowing vehicles on beaches for recreational purposes causes the destruction of dune vegetation, disturbance of wildlife, alien species being introduced, erosion, litter and the exploitation of marine animals.”

Ms Mair said she had set up an online petition to further her cause, and contacted the Clutha District Council (CDC) to question it on local rules.

Council chief executive Steve Hill said Clutha did not have a bylaw banning vehicle access to beaches.

“Unless there is a bylaw to the contrary, beaches in New Zealand are classified as roads. Controlling vehicular use of beaches would require council to undertake a consultation and bylaw process.”

CDC was likely to consider the question later this year, when a staff report on the subject was complete, he said.

Department of Conservation (Doc) Owaka biodiversity ranger Cheryl Pullar said the office had received reports of vehicles driving too close to sea lions at Cannibal Bay, although she was not aware of the incident described by Ms Mair. Despite Doc favouring measures to protect wildlife, she said a blanket vehicle ban could prove complicated.

“There could be issues for boaties accessing the beach, and others with legitimate needs.”

She and fellow rangers sometimes used ATVs to access remote parts of local beaches.

“What’s important is the way people are driving, ensuring safety.”

Mr Hill said the council would welcome further dialogue with Ms Mair.

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