Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project – West Coast, New Zealand

In 2008 the Department of Conservation, Conservation Volunteers New Zealand, and the Rio Tinto group entered into a Partnering Agreement to support the restoration of a strip of 80 ha of coastal land just south of Punakaiki village. The land was predominantly farm-land, but has special ecological significance due to its proximity to the sole breeding colony of the Westland Petrel. At the time of the partnering agreement, the land was owned by Rio Tinto Ltd, and has since been gifted to the Department of Conservation, with subsequent gazetting as a Nature Reserve.

Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project
Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project
Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project
The Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project Site

The Partnering Agreement vision for the Westland Ilmenite land at Punakaiki is for the development of an ecological corridor that spans from the mountains to sea, reflecting the rich biodiversity of the area that includes the only nesting ground of the vulnerable Westland Petrel, the natural habitat of the Blue Penguin and the sand plain forests bearing Nikau Palms and Rata trees many hundreds of years old. For visitors to the area, the entrance to Punakaiki will be marked by a transition from open pasture to dense forest. This transition reflects the community aspirations for the area, that Punakaiki is a mainland island, rich in conservation history with a community who actively care for the site.

In October 2010, the site was officially declared a Nature Reserve by the Minister of Conservation, the Hon. Kate Wilkinson and, in consultation with local iwi, named Te Ara Tāiko Nature Reserve. From the start of the project, CVNZ have been responsible for the management and implementation of the restoration activities on site, as well as the management of the many hundreds of volunteers who have participated and contributed to the project.
A key to the success of the project has been CVNZ’s capacity to deliver its responsibilities – primarily delivery of the restoration outcomes through utilising the capacities of volunteers. In addition to planting, weed control and seed collection, CVNZ has established an efficient site-nursery that now grows all the plant stock for the project. Perhaps most critically, given the significance Rio Tinto and the project partners place on safety, CVNZ has tried and tested health and safety processes coupled with a strong safety culture that ensures volunteers and staff are equally respected and looked after.

Part of CVNZ’s nursery at the Punaiaki Coastal Restoration Project (PCRP)

Through this project, Conservation Volunteers has made a significant contribution to the community and conservation along the West Coast, including enhancing the protection of the Westland Petrel. The extension of the partnership to include Lincoln University is also contributing to overall knowledge and research about ecological restoration with a focus on developing best practice models. The site is now used as a teaching location for university students studying ecology, tourism, landscape and soils. The University also intends to use the site as an undergraduate practicum location and develop university recognition and accreditation for volunteers and employees engaged in the PCRP.

CVNZ’s tree planting programme in action at the PCRP

For Rio Tinto, the site has provided something of a flagship partnership in the way that it has facilitated community (CVNZ), government agency (DOC), business (Rio) and now tertiary sector (Lincoln University) to work together to deliver multiple benefits. To this extent, Rio Tinto was proud to showcase the project at the 2013 Mines Closure Conference at Eden in the UK.

Since the PCRP began, it has achieved 6,752 volunteer days and planted 129,444 trees. It is the shared vision of all partners to ensure a sustainable future for Te Ara Tāiko Nature Reserve.

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