More than 90% of New Zealand's dune lands have been built on or bulldozed. The Coromandel Peninsula however, boasts three nationally significant dune systems which are in Public Conservation Land (Hot Water Beach, Waikawau and Otama), and protected.
These sand dune systems are undeveloped, but they have still suffered heavy human modification. Where once would have been golden grasses leading to coastal dune forest, with seabirds nesting amongst tree roots and tuatara roaming, are now a few stands of native trees and a host of dune weeds.
Luckily, Mercury Bay Area School Deputy Principal, Anne-Maree McDougall and local DOC staff are leading their troops in the War on Weeds! They have joined forces and become 'Dune Buddies' for 2017. Their aim is to restore our dune ecosystems, removing exotic weeds so allowing native species to thrive.
The Dune Buddies held their first Dune Day at Otama last month. Students worked with DOC technical advisors to undertake vegetation monitoring. "I was really impressed with the students' ability to identify the plant species and conduct the survey plots," said DOC invasive plant specialist, David Havell." This information will provide a snapshot of what plants are there now, and hopefully, as time goes on and we continue to monitor, we will see less weeds and more natives."
After lunch and a swim, it was time to declare a War on Weeds – everyone donned their war paint, then with battle cries and a semblance of military precision, swept the Otama dunes and removed all traces of lupin and ice plant. Local DOC volunteer Ian Booth also showed the students other weapons of war, demonstrating the DOC 200 traps he checks fortnightly in the dunes to protect our native species like NZ Dotterel from predators.
This trip, students focused on one section of the dunes and throughout the year, two more Dune Days will see the entire Otama dune system cleared. Over 150 Year 5 and 6 students will get the chance to learn about what makes our Coromandel Dunes so special and what we can do to protect them. Already students are asking "I've seen these weeds at my beach by my house, can I pull them out there?" – look out Coromandel, your dune weed days are numbered!