Beach access proposal to fail

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Environment Southland councillor Lloyd Esler holds a toheroa he dug up at Oreti Beach, near Invercargill. Photo: Luisa Girao

SOME Southlanders are concerned vehicle access to one of the region’s most popular beaches may be limited to save shellfish.

Four options with varying restrictions are being proposed by Environment Southland to protect toheroa from the impact of vehicles on Oreti Beach near Invercargill.

At least one Environment Southland councillor said while it was good people were worried about toheroa numbers, the idea was “doomed to fail”.

“It will be a disaster [to close] because Oreti Beach is a cultural icon,” Cr Lloyd Esler said.

“The options proposed by Environment Southland did not include the logical one, which is leave it alone. Currently, there is a sustainable customary take, a healthy toheroa population and a beach accessible to vehicles, as it has been for more than a century.”

While toheroa was native to New Zealand, it was introduced to Oreti Beach, Cr Esler said.

“Possibly brought to the beach in the late 1800s, where they have since thrived. They are genetically the same as North Island ones and had they been here earlier, they would be present in beach deposits and middens.”

Cr Esler believed closing the beach would have a similar effect on the community as the closure of the Southland Museum & Art Gallery.

“Loss of vehicle access means the end of floundering, surfing, sand yachts, the Burt Munro beach race, picnics for elderly people and many other things. It would lose all the activities for possibly no gain whatsoever on toheroa population.”

Burt Munro Challenge committee chairman Craig Hyde agreed closing the whole beach would be a “huge loss” for the region and its economy.

He said the beach race was one of the most popular attractions during the event, attracting between 5000 and 10,000 spectators each year.

“It is one of the biggest events in Southland and a lot of people come down to do what he [Burt] used to do race on the beach. It is a bucket-list item for many.

“Everything from accommodation to sales in general would be affected, because of the amount of people this event brings to the town.”

Mr Hyde said the committee fully supported and understood the council’s concerns regarding the protection of toheroa and members had been working alongside the council to ensure as little impact on the beach as possible.

“Ten years ago we used to run on the left side of the beach but we changed that because of the toheroa.”

On the beach last week, Invercargill resident Craig Palmer said if restrictions were in place, he would not have been able to take his 5-year-old son Flynn to the beach to collect some shells. Flynn broke both legs last year and needed a wheelchair.

“It is school holidays and it is so hard to find things he can do outside when he is in a wheelchair. He loves to come to the beach.”

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said it was estimated vehicles increased mortality in young toheroa by at least 23%.

Feedback on the proposals can be submitted online or via a survey from local council offices until Friday, February 21.

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