Far North communities must act now to adapt to climate change say experts
Te Hapua is one of the Far North coastal communities having to act now to combat the impending risks to the community as a result of climate change. Photo / Peter De Graaf 090622SPLMAP, 'The NZRise online tool allows people to see how sea levels will rise along their coastline. Photo/Supplied' Like everywhere else in the country, the Far North is facing its own set of specific climate-change risks. Severe drought, wildfires, extreme weather events such as ex-tropical cyclones and rising sea levels are all major areas of concern for the area. Last month NZ SeaRise launched a new online tool that showed sea-level rise projections by location to the year 2300. As a result, people throughout New Zealand, including the Far North, can now see how much and how fast sea levels will rise along "their" stretch of coast. Professor Timothy Naish, Victoria University of Wellington scientist and NZ SeaRise co-leader, said the Far North appeared to be stable regarding sea-level rise, however, there were areas of concern. "It seems like the east coast is sinking faster than the west coast, with Paihia and Russell subsiding at about -2mm per year, which means in 100 years they will get 20cm more sea-level rise than was expected," Naish said. "For Mitimiti, 40cm of sea-level rise will happen by 2050 and the 100-year coastal flood will be an annual event, so storm surge could be as high as 3m above present-day sea-level. "Whangarei seems quite stable and will get just a little more sea-level rise than the global average, however, a rate of -3mm/year of land sinking effectively doubles the rate of sea-level rise compared to global average sea-level rise." Naish said areas around New Zealand expected to experience the fastest sea-level rise were southeastern Wairarapa Coast, Napier, Wellington, Nelson and Tasman. To help manage climate change risk in Northland, all four Te Tai Tokerau councils (Kaipara, Far North, Whangarei and Northland) announced in April they were adopting New Zealand's first region-wide climate adaptation strategy. The Te Tai Tokerau Climate Adaptation Strategy was developed by Climate Adaptation Te Tai Tokerau (CATT), a combined council working group under the governance of the Joint Climate Change Adaptation Committee. NRC manager for climate change Tom FitzGerald said the new projections on sea-level rise were an important piece of the puzzle and the NZ SeaRise tool would help inform Northland's adaptation to the growing effects of climate change. "At first glance, the effects vary across the region. Some coastal areas will see an increase in projected sea-level rise, while other areas could experience a decrease in sea-level rise, compared to our current coastal hazard maps published in 2021," Fitzgerald said. "What this new information also reinforces is how the effects of climate change vary depending on local factors and are coming at us more quickly than many people realise. "We can't just adapt once and think we've done the work, either we must continue to adapt as our communities and environment change in order to be resilient and thrive." Far North landscape architect Delwyn Shepherd has a Masters of Landscape Architecture (Redefining Coastal Erosion), specialising in how to mitigate or slow down the effects of erosion. Shepherd said the big problem, in her view, was that 80 per cent of the country's communities lived on coastal fringes or waterways. She said stopping erosion completely would cost billions of dollars and believed the NZ SeaRise findings should be a wake-up call to all Far North communities. "A lot of the modelling to prepare for climate change has only been based on sea-level change, so did not include tectonic movement of land, prevailing winds or Arctic meltwater," Shepherd said. "This new data has basically thrown the baby out with the bathwater and we're now going to have to play catch-up. "Just like preparing for a house fire, communities should be having conversations about what processes are in place and get councils to define how they see this playing out." Top-of-mind among the communities of concern for Shepherd were Ahipara, Doubtless Bay and Kaimaumau. In Ahipara, Shepherd said infrastructure along Foreshore Rd would likely be destroyed, leaving some houses there vulnerable to sea-level rises. She said some of the lower-lying houses in and around Korora St had also been at risk for decades from Wairoa Stream flooding in storm events combined with storm surges. Wave and wind action had also eroded the land within several metres of property boundaries. In Doubtless Bay, Shepherd said Hihi already had horrible sandstone cliff erosion and that Taipa, while relatively well-placed, only needed one big storm event with waves and wind to threaten all of the low-lying properties in that area. She believed the Karikari peninsula was also at risk, particularly around Tokerau Beach, which was a former saline wetland and particularly vulnerable to flooding and inundation from sea-level change. Finally, she saw Kaimaumau as high-risk due to its geographic location and because it was already close to the current sea level. "My biggest concern, however, is regarding smaller, more isolated Far North communities like Te Hapua," Shepherd said. "These places are not receiving the same urgency and attention the communities with larger populations are, yet their protection should be higher. Muriwhenua Incorporation chair Marama Pohatu is working on a research project called, 'He whakaneke a te hapori o Te Hapua ki tetahi ara haumaru- Relocating Te Hapua to safety as sea levels rise'. In this research, the collective iwi of Te Hapua and of Muriwhenua Incorporation will draw knowledge of their living kaumatua, as well as those who have passed, to create a proactive climate adaptation plan. The plan will examine the possibilities for, and the tikanga (protocol) surrounding, relocation. Pohatu agreed with Shepherd's comments about smaller communities and said more needed to be done to support them in their quest to combat climate-change impact. "I believe it is inequitable and sad that communities such as Te Hapua are being left to find their own solutions, with little to no support - human, physical or financial - to tackle such a global concern," Pohatu said. "If we had not been successful with our funding application to Deep South National Science Challenge, the people of Te Hapua would be at significant risk of losing for example their homes, community, geographical features, kohanga reo, church, infrastructure - their way of life." To future-proof communities across the Far North, Far North District Council (FNDC) said it was focusing on risk management as one of the key pillars to managing climate-change impact. According to a council spokesperson, FNDC's Operative District Plan included methods for managing land use and subdivision in locations that were subject to natural hazards, including coastal hazards. FNDC said it was reviewing the District Plan to manage the risks to land use and subdivision in coastal environments. "We have updated mapping of coastal hazards areas, including the 50-year and 100-year coastal erosion and flood hazard zones, and have recently mapped coastal flood and erosion hazards zone 3, which represents a scenario over a 100-year timeframe with accelerated sea-level rise," the council spokesperson said. "The aim is to avoid new subdivision that enables new vulnerable activities to be located in higher-risk areas (one in 10-year flood hazards, and coastal erosion and flood hazard 1 areas), while managing and mitigating risks in other hazard areas." To find out more about the Te Tai Tokerau Climate Adaptation Strategy, visit www.catt.org.nz or Far North District Council's response to climate change, visit: www.fndc.govt.nz/Your-district/Climate-change-in-the-Far-North To check out the NZRise Programme sea-level rise tool, visit: www.searise.nz/maps The Hui's D'Angelo Martin was once told he'd never go far with te reo Maori.