Stewart Islanders urged to dream big, speak up

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Oban, Stewart Island. Photo: Southland Express files

STEWART Island residents are being encouraged to dream big about what they need to secure the island’s future following the fallout from an oyster parasite threat earlier this year.

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong encouraged the Stewart Island community to tell the council what they needed.

“There’s no such thing as a dumb idea. Let’s put everything on the table and see what we can do with it,” he said.

“We need to give [Stewart Island] a push to make it viable for people to stay.”

Like many regional areas throughout New Zealand, Stewart Island faced a series of challenges, including a declining youth population, declining employment opportunities, an ageing population and ageing infrastructure.

The Southland District Council (SDC) has engaged community development and engagement consultants Connecting People to work with the Stewart Island community to develop long-term key goals/projects to make living, working and playing on the island more desirable.

Mr Tong said this was a district-wide process, but following the bonamia threat, and the resulting impact on the Stewart Island community, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) had allocated some funding for key initiatives to support the Stewart Island community.

The discovery of Bonamia ostreae, a parasite lethal to flat oysters, in two Stewart Island oyster farms in May, resulted in nearly 1900 tonnes of oysters being removed from commercial fisheries in Stewart Island’s Big Glory Bay in a bid to protect the Foveaux Strait wild oyster fishery.

Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board chairman Jon Spraggon said when the bonamia threat occurred, the island community was concerned it would lose its families.

“As far as I am aware, no full-time, island-based people had left [so far].

“The oyster industry had been growing on the island, so the major affects of it now coming to a stand still will have effects into the future.”

Mr Spraggon said his suggestions to make Stewart Island a more viable place to live and work included securing cheaper electricity and upgrading the island’s ageing wharves.

The tourist season also needed to be extended to make it more viable for island businesses to operate, he said.

Connecting People community facilitator Sandra James said MBIE had agreed to fund one or two key projects which would make the biggest difference to those people living, working and playing on the island.

The Stewart Island community would have the opportunity to present their ideas through a variety of means, including a residents’ survey, suggestion boxes, community workshops and a community engagement fete, she said.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for the community to get involved and play a part in their future as they want to see it. There is real strength in unity.”

Following the consultation process, a plan would be developed and presented to SDC in February.

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