Fishing paradise with a tsunami risk

MIKE CREAN
Last updated 10:29 14/12/2013
goose bay

SHE'LL BE RIGHT: Campers at Goose Bay say they'd climb the nearby hill in the event of a tsunami.

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Holidays don't get better than camping and fishing at Goose Bay.

Leisure seekers return frequently to the attractive camping grounds, to wade into the water or putter out to sea in small boats after fish.

Yet the coastline south of Kaikoura is regarded by scientists as a tsunami risk.

Diving enthusiast Don Scott reckons the risk of being hit crossing the highway or railway along the narrow coastline is greater than being swamped by a tsunami. He has dived around New Zealand and other countries. He rates this section of coast as his favourite.

"It is at the bottom end of the Kermadec Trench that brings nutrients which attract crayfish and paua. It is very deep so it flushes and clears quickly after a southerly. Clear water freshens it up very quickly and you get lots of sea life. It's cold water so there are no corals but it is not over- crowded," he says.

Scott admits to getting "knocked about a bit" as he bumps against the rocks but he doesn't mind. "The rocks are great. You pick up paua and crays among the kelp and in shallow water around the rocks."

He and his mates from the Canterbury Underwater Club usually take a boat out and spear butterfish. "They are very good to eat, the best fish in the ocean," he says.

Scott has come to know many of the regulars and never has trouble finding somewhere to sleep. Some have baches nearby. Some love the place so much they have bought land and built on it. A sense of comradeship has developed among them.

But what would happen to their houses and baches if the sea level suddenly surged several metres higher?

Far-fetched, Scott says. New Zealand is a coastal country and has never had such an incident.

I ask a camper at Goose Bay about the tsunami danger. He glances at his wife and two children and says he is aware of the risk.

"But if you don't take some risks in life, you never do anything," he says.

His wife suggests they could run up the hill if a big wave comes.

Some scientists express frustration that the tsunami risk is not taken seriously enough. Their concern has been based mostly on the 200 million cubic metres of silt, gravel and mud that have been washed into the sea by rivers. This material has formed an underwater mountain, perched at the mouth of the 1-kilometre-deep Kaikoura Canyon, which comes to within 500 metres of the shore at Goose Bay.

An earthquake could cause this mountain to collapse, creating an avalanche of silt, gravel and mud pouring into the canyon. The effect would be like dropping a boulder into a pond. It could start a tsunami.

At least 16 tsunamis are known to have had some impact here in the last 200 years. Canterbury University doctoral student Jen DuBois found evidence of tsunami debris along the coast in 2011-2012. She found a pebble-bearing layer in the ground that thinned inland and contained micro-fossils of freshwater and marine organisms. Such deposits were not found north or south of the 22km coast. Her findings prompted calls for evacuation routes and warning signs.

Scientific modelling has suggested waves up to 10m high could inundate the coast within minutes if a strong earthquake triggered a large underwater avalanche. A catastrophic tsunami could cause more than 100 deaths and $100 million of damage to infrastructure and the local economy.

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DuBois warned that Kaikoura was "completely unprepared" for such an event.

ECan last year began moves to raise awareness of the tsunami risk among tourist operators and accommodation providers, though geological hazard analyst Helen Grant conceded: "We don't want to scare people off because the risk is no greater than it is along other parts of the eastern North Island and South Island."

Most Goose Bay residents live on higher ground, up the gully above the shore. However, seaside camps along the coast stand only a few metres from the high-water line.

Long-time resident Sam Leary said last year the residents had a "phone tree" warning system which had worked well in the past.

However, he accepted in the case of a really large earthquake a tsunami could be just minutes away. "You would barely have enough time to pick up your cat - that's just the reality of the situation," Leary said.

As summer holidays approach, the annual influx of holidaymakers will fill the camp spaces along the coast. They will enjoy an idyllic break from work and the city.

Tour coaches and huge trucks will still rumble past. Cars and campervans will stop for photographs and crayfish purchases. Trains will slip in and out of tunnels where near-vertical hills drop to the surf. Life goes on, tsunami risk or not.

- The Press

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