FOUR popular beaches in Gisborne described as “no-go zones” following a Government report on recreational water quality, have the potential to “destroy our summer tourism trade”, a surfing advocate says.
The Ministry for the Environment’s (MFE) latest report card highlights Makarori, Midway, Waikanae and Wainui surf club areas as having very poor water quality, in a new grading system that ranks water quality on five levels from very good to very poor.
By comparison, beaches at Wairoa, Mahia and on the East Coast received grades of good or fair.
Gisborne surfing advocate and former district councillor Larry Foster says the district prides itself on its pristine beaches and environment for all to enjoy.
It was of great concern to see the beaches classified as having “very poor water quality”. To see the classification described by the New Zealand Herald as “no-go zones” was harmful to tourism here, he said.
“It could destroy our summer tourist trade and puts a big question mark on our own personal health and safety,” said Mr Foster.
“Remedying this bizarre situation should be put on the highest priority to secure our future in paradise.”
Mr Foster said the same area took in five of the country’s 17 nationally- significant surf breaks in the New Zealand National Coastal Policy Statement.
This meant there was an obligation to protect those areas from harmful pollutants for present and future generations to use, he said.
Gisborne District Council has put the results down to a new grading system it says is more pedantic.
In addition to analysis of water monitoring data, the new Suitability for Recreation Grade (SFRG) now includes a requirement to report all potential sources of pollution, said council team leader of environmental protection Louise Bennett.
The report card covering the years 2007-2012 has drawn a question mark over New Zealand’s 100 Percent Pure brand, showing that 52 percent of monitored river sites had poor or very poor water quality.
The MFE grades sites according to the combination of sanitary surveys carried out by the council, analysis of data from the previous years, and calculated web-based sanitary inspection.
The risk factors at central Gisborne beaches include the proximity of beaches to the city wastewater pipe, faecal and sediment run-off from farms into rivers, harbour activities including discharge from ships and boats, and the proximity of a beach to rivers and the harbour.
“We are probably always going to have problems reported in these areas, due to the potential hazards that will always be taken into account under the new grading system,” said Mrs Bennett.
“These areas might not be actually causing problems but the grade highlights these factors have the potential to cause a problem.”
With the report covering the past five years, Mrs Bennett said Gisborne had some very wet summers in that time and it was fair to expect poor monitoring results as a result.
In terms of monitoring, bathing beach sites in the district are monitored weekly from December to February and a surfing site at Makorori is monitored fortnightly throughout the year.
The three main beaches — Midway, Wainui and Waikanae — are also monitored throughout the winter.
Mrs Bennett said the council was working on a new database for future reporting of the results of recreational monitoring on the council website.
Gisborne-based freshwater ecologist Murray Palmer said water quality here varied depending on the location and intensity of industry in those areas.
“It’s really a mixed bag. We have some excellent streams here but we also have some really poor ones.”
Lowland rivers in areas of intensive agriculture were generally in a poor condition but more isolated streams had really good water quality, he said.
“Even a lot of our farmland streams are good at the moment but it can easily be turned.”