Editorial: Time to save our estuaries

Last updated 05:00 20/06/2014

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OPINION: The sky isn't falling. But the estuaries are gasping.

An Environment Southland report on the state of our estuaries places them on the verge of an ecological disaster. You could say we've been hearing that for while now. Take any comfort from that sense of familiarity and you're kidding yourself.

The problem has been expanding and accelerating. All Southland's estuaries bar one, Freshwater, has shown signs of rapid degradation and most have exponential increases in those reeking eutrophic areas where algae feed off the nutrients that escape our heavily-farmed land.

It's far from a localised problem and neither local nor national government has been idle. You might recall that in 2011 the Government, ahem, "required" regions to maintain or improve the water quality in their lakes, rivers, wetlands and aquifers.

Then came a proposed national "plan of action" (a title to distinguish this from plans of inaction?) for improving water quality and the way freshwater is managed.

This led to the announcement of a "collaborative planning option for the development of a freshwater plan within a community".

And yep, some extra resourcing resulted. Budget 2014 put another $20 million, over four years, to boost freshwater and environment initiatives, a large part of which was to help councils and communities improve the way they plan and make decisions about managing their local freshwater resources. Down on the farm, ES has already introduced new resource-consent requirements for dairy conversions - a good move, albeit one that hasn't led to a whole heap of refusals.

Cynicism is not required here. There has been, for years now, a genuine and not-insubstantial attempt to front up to the problem after a sustained time of dangerous under-reaction not simply by authorities, but by our wider society.

Breathing estuaries aren't nice-to-have things. More than just an indicator of how we're doing environmentally they're really important ecosystems in themselves. Ask the fishing industry.

We seriously need to turn the figures around. And we haven't. That is scary.

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- The Southland Times

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