Urgent Action Needed on Marlborough Sounds Demise

Opinion piece by Pete Watson


Beneath the idyllic, calm waters the Marlborough Sounds, is a serious problem

There was a recent article (Dec 7) entitled “Three Quarters of Marlborough Forestry Blocks Fail Initial Check” and written by Maia Hart.

It raises serious questions such as why do we continue to travel the same dusty old road that has disastrous consequences for residents, roading, rate payers and most importantly the environment

From as far back as the 1980s Marlborough district councillors have had report after report put in front of them advising that our forestry techniques and areas planted are having severe consequences for the environment.  This has now evolved into consequences for adjoining land owners and our roads as seen in the last weather event. The bulk of roading damage on the state highways during the last flood was due to inept forestry practices that the rate payer then pays to repair.
The congratulatory statements made by councillor David Croad in this article is just another shuffle of a report followed by a pat on the back around the coffee pot. 

When will we see some real answers to the disastrous effects this posturing allows to occur?

Some examples of the disastrous state of the environment of the Marlborough Sounds are listed below, yet everyone will still believe the Sounds to be pristine and well cared. However this is so far from the truth that it infuriates those of us that have been bringing examples to councillors for the past twenty years. 

When Port Underwood was logged in the 1990’s The Marlborough District Council accepted advice that there would be a siltation layer of siltation but so insignificant so that the Sound would disperse it quickly. When nearly 1.5 metres of siltation turned to mud and choked the life off the sea floor, council turned a blind eye to the reality. The damage is still very evident today and now we are harvesting logs in the area again with the same destructive methods.
Mud-filled Mahau

The Mahau Sound that in the early 1980s was a sandy bottom and commercially scallop fished now in its entirety, has filled in with mud and silt mainly coming from the Pelorus river catchment. Nothing lives on the now very shallow Mahau sound. I personally dived recorded, and filmed the poor state of the Mahau sound in 2018 showing how bad it was but gained little support. 

The Kenepuru Sound has been photographed from space showing how discoloured the water is from silting year round. The Kenepuru and outer Pelorus Sounds once a haven of food, is as well choked with mud and silt. 

The bottom is lifeless.

Yet only 70 years ago – one generation – the Kenepuru produced blue cod, mussels, crayfish and even paua a Kaitiaki advised me. The weed has gone, the habitat has gone and so do all the species that rely on the food chain. At least the mussels that choke the last remaining life from the Kenepuru sound appear to thrive on this poor water condition.

I live in the Kenepuru Sound and a few years ago applied through correct channels to place a mooring for my property. Part of the process was to give a report of the bottoms life forms that placing the mooring could damage. Samples were gathered at the site which I then had the pleasure of handing to a colleague in the battle for our Sounds Dr John Leader – a marine biologist. His report was alarming and surprised even him. 

In the report Dr Leader supplied to council, it was advised that he could find no living entities and in fact that no organisms could survive in that habitat composition I supplied him. This in itself a damming report of course went no further.
In 2015 in my capacity of President of Marlborough Recreational Fishing Association we gained a 20 second slot on a one news report into National’s proposed Recreational Fishing Park of the Marlborough Sounds. Instead of delivering a flowery praise of the idea we instead pushed how the sea bed of the public’s Sounds is now a toxic environment and that closing areas off will not work unless we change our ways in regards to land based operations that are doing the damage. 

Swift Reaction

Reaction to this one news report was swift from the forestry sector who instead shifted blame to residential development. If our ineffectual council had jumped in at the time, then the can of worms would have been opened leading to some more positive change but once again passing-the-buck happened. Our local Government blamed central government and stated their hands were tied. Yet central Government blamed the Marlborough District Council and stated under environment protection laws council could stop sitting on their hands.

In 2015 and 2016 scientist Mr Rob Davidson who was funded by council, presented reports to sitting councillors. One presentation by Mr Davidson was filmed and uploaded to U-tube for a short time. The then councillors were aghast at the damage that was being done, had been done and was continuing to be done. Evidence provided by Rob Davidson over a ten year period was of monitored ecologically significant sites in the Sounds. Eighty-five percent was permanently destroyed and gone forever. 

In other reports Davidson stated that it was demoralising and devastating the impact anchoring, bottom trawling and forestry was having on the ecology of the seafloor of the Marlborough Sounds. 

Yet has council done anything, has it acted on the council’s own paid science, has it even edged closer to just one councillor saying enough is enough? 

Nothing has happened except silence once and inertia.

Why ? 

A good way to move forward is to focus on preserving the little left not on what has been lost yet still nothing is done


Clear Felling leads to heavy silting of the Sounds – Pelorus Sound

Change Ways

Forestry is here forever. That’s undeniable but at some point we need to change our practices. I have personally sat in on a presentation done by a company showing how they could extract forests in the sounds using an aerial technique from felling to a barge and not drag trees across the land causing the silt run off. 

Similarly European practice is to harvest logs in two cuts, felled along contours, twelve months apart. Yet these proposed methods that are in practice in other countries have been ignored and clear felling continues. Visiting diplomats on a salmon farming visit from Norway were aghast at our landscape after clear felling that they witnessed from through to Picton that they witnessed. One stated that in their country if this was done people would go to jail. 

So why council does not change to much less destructive logging methods used overseas is baffling. Recently NIWA published a report showing that after spending many more millions they could see from satellites that the Sounds is under heavy pressure from siltation mainly caused by forestry. 

Well, scientists in over 15 reports since 1980 and the Marlborough Recreational Fishers’ Association and individuals have been telling council, central government and anyone that pretends to be in charge, of this disaster of the plight. It seems council doesn’t want to know. Disowning the Jewel?

Does the Marlborough District Council disown the Marlborough Sounds?

Council and today’s sitting councillors need to grow a voice, as the silence borders on cowardice and preservation of a “cushy wee well paid job.”  

Enough is enough. 

Stop hiding behind the statement “we need more science. “ 

Council has had over 15 scientific reports and continue to receive the science and growing public concern.

Please do something towards repairing the environmental and ecological destruction. It will take generations to repair so start now and perhaps yours and my grand children will see in person, how once the Sounds was and not by looking in a history book at the library


Footnote: Peter Watson is a Marlborough Sounds advocate and conservationist


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11 Responses to Urgent Action Needed on Marlborough Sounds Demise

  1. J B Smith says:

    Well spoken Pete Watson. Well, a Marlborough District Council site says it all – “Sedimentation of estuaries and seabed habitats is a natural process, caused by slips in native forest.
    However, our activities on land and in the sea have accelerated erosion rates and led to dramatically increased rates of sediment entering our waterways.
    Excessive sedimentation is can smother habitats and thereby change ecological composition by killing and displacing marine invertebrates, shellfish, and algae.”
    Well why the lack of action?

  2. Pollyanna says:

    How do MDC councillors get action on this issue? It is obvious it is needed! What does it take to change the by-lays/regulations governing the methods planted forests are harvested? The powerful economic benefits versus the future sustainability. If the Sounds are permanently destroyed where’s the economy then? Come on MDC get the process going to make the changes now!

  3. Hanneke Kroon says:

    thanks Pete Watson for bringing up this important topic for the Marlborough Sounds. I agree that at this moment the large scale clearfelling of pine forests that is going on in the Pelorus river catchment, as well as in the Pelorus Sound itself, is putting another nail in the coffin of the Marlborough Sounds through excessive sedimentation.
    The State of the Environment report from 2015, produced by the Marlborough District Council, states: “Marlborough’s marine biodiversity is not in good shape, particularly in the Sounds. The significant issues are: fewer fish, not as many species, serious loss of biogenic habitats, sedimentation in estuaries smothering thousands of hectares of seabed and biosecurity incursions.” (page 150). Everywhere in the section of the report dealing with the coastal environment, monitoring is mentioned and even done in some instances, but there are no descriptions of real action taken to improve the state of the marine environment.

  4. Neil Wilson says:

    cheers pete, well said,i have fished the sounds since the early 60s, the kenaparu aways fished well, hell its that bad now, the spotty numbers have dropped that much in and around sandy bay , they if you targeted them for bait you will be lucky to catch one,some of the bays in the kenny are devoid of any shell fish, oysters/mussels gone,weed etc gone, its buggered, but mes in power have been told time and time again, by locals, but nay they listen to people who work in tall buildings they know best, bollocks

    • pete says:

      Have fished the Keneperu the past 6 weeks over at Bells Pt opposite you. Not one snapper bite out of ten attempts. No small fish ie spottie bites at all.
      Like you I have been fishing there since the 70s and have watched the demise. The inaction is heartbreaking by council. How we change the inaction I do not know

  5. Bud jones JonesQSM says:

    I floated the peloras a while ago on air matress & pack only, no less, partly as a scouting report for fishing the full length.I twas futile as it was a flow of mud even in fine weather.
    The amount of silt & mud on the brink of entering the flow was colossal .

  6. W A Reed says:

    Surely forestry should not be allowed in the Sounds? Hardly economic given logging and barging costs?
    For that matter it is so detrimental from spread of wilding pines, to siltation, to depleting freshwater streams with their water intake, to damage to roads by logging trucks, turning soils/water acidic, monoculture creation, loss of biodiversity etc.

  7. Jill Bunting says:

    At present you have a government who are actively encouraging (paying) farmers to get rid of animals and plant trees, even where it has been proven that this is environmentally unsustainable. Farmers have to make a living. They pay considerable rates on their properties and even in the high wind environment of the sounds are having to pay for the odd burp or fart from their cows. Sheep meat and wool won’t cover their outgoings in a political environment whereby we are supposed to be eating very expensive plant substitute protein, wearing cotton or synthetics imported from China and farmers are being taxed to force that ideology onto the population. So they plant pines (and get paid to do it)…..if you want idealistic government and let’s face it NZ voted this lot in, you will have to pay, including replacement roads and imported fish and shellfish. NZ is killing what made us great and tourism will not thrive if the landscape is pocked with pines and slippages…..

  8. Scott Macindoe says:

    To add insult to injury we now have the spectre of Regional Councils marching into the water empowered by the RMA to maintain indigenous biodiversity of the benthic (seabed) environment. They do so by closing prime fishing space for ten years under the guise of special area status. The moment they try to constrain industrial scale mobile bottom trashing methods like trawling and dredging they get called out by commercial vested interests as interfering with fisheries management roles that the Fisheries Act and MPI are responsible for administering. So they intensify their irrational and futile efforts to protect by targeting the recreational fishing sector. Customary get a free pass under recent interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi Settlement Acts.

    Meanwhile the disgraceful and well documented siltation caused by forestry investors carries on undiminished.

    Tragically, the lunatics are truly in charge of the asylum.

  9. Peter Wilks says:

    Hello Pete,
    I stumbled across your article but most interesting.
    I am a professional forester with some 40 years work experience in plantation forestry.
    In my university thesis ((published 1981 !) I wrote on the effects of forestry on marine farming in the Marlborough Sounds.
    More recently I have become concerned about the very issues you write about.
    I offered my experience (at no cost) to talk to MDC Councillors about some pragmatic solutions-but am still waiting an invitation…
    Basically I beleive plantation forestry should be phased out in the Sounds. The problem is there is no incentive for forest owners to do so, as many are Pre-1990 forests and are compelled to re-plant or face large carbon credit liabilities. There needs to be some amendments to Legislation to allow gradual phase out with forest owners being financially penalised.
    Anecdotally it also seems to me that some forestry companies environmental practices are not great and this is not being monitored very well by MDC.
    Peter Wilks

    • Pete says:

      Hi Peter,

      Very powerful words coming from someone with your knowledge and expertise. I also find it amazing that a man of your scientific credibility and background can be ignored by MDC surrounding these issues. The disgraceful condition we have allowed the Marlborough sounds to deteriorate to is probably the greatest environmental disaster Marlborough has ever faced yet we do little to prevent, control and offer remedy of the processes that have got us to where we are.
      I purchased land in the Keneperu sound in 2017 that has an established 8 Hectare forestry block on it. I was never going to commercially harvest this timber which would have made me the biggest hipocrate ever. What I did however is look into costing the removal and value. At the end of the process through a forestry consultant my wood was given a negative value due to felling, carting cost and quality of timber the sounds produces. On asking around we found that some who had harvested had received invoices instead of remuneration once their blocks had been cleared. It is very clear that Marlborough sounds forestry in its entirety is either very marginal or negatively valued. Yes it is time to completely eradicate Pinus Radiata from The Marlborough sounds

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