During hot summer days in Aotearoa, the beach is a
favourite playground for many people. However, to the marine
animals (including seabirds, fish, crustaceans, shellfish
etc.) that live there, the beach is their home. It is sad
that this simple fact eludes people who choose to put their
fun ahead of the lives of animals.
The coastline in
Aotearoa is incredibly beautiful. We go there for several
reasons – recreational and commercial. It is a
reenergising environment that is good for our
However, from ecological
perspective things are not quite so rosy. According
to the Ministry for the Environment New Zealand in 2019,
22 percent of marine mammals, 90 percent of seabirds and 80
percent of shorebirds are threatened with, or at risk of,
than 85 percent of shellfish ecosystems have been impacted
by human activity. And human recreational activity is
one of the contributing factors in this devastating
This is a crisis. It is a crisis that is
human-induced and many of us need to take a step back and
change our behaviour at the beach.
For example, a recent
news article reported that four pairs of variable
oystercatchers (a threatened species of waders) had
abandoned their nests an Onahau Sandspit after quadbikers
rode through their home. After experiencing the wheelies,
donuts and jumps on the beach the oystercatchers abandoned
endemic Aotearoa shorebird, the variable oystercatcher
(or toreo-pango in Māori) nest in summer on rocky and sandy
beaches and sandspits. These black headed and white bellied
birds are stunning. They have characteristic bright orange
beaks, orange eye rings and pink legs. They rely on the
shoreline for their food, favouring mussels, tuatua and
The Oystercatcher can be found throughout
coastlines of Aotearoa, with their numbers at around 5000
individuals. They are considered ‘At Risk (Recovering)’
under the New Zealand ‘threat ranking’
Oystercatchers have evolved to open bivalve
shellfish by twisting them open with their bill or hammering
a hole in them. They carefully teach this skill to their
Their chicks look like fluffy marshmallows on
stick legs, scurrying around their protective parents. They
hatch out of stone-coloured eggs laid in a scrape in the
How easy it is for a quad bike to smash one of
those stone looking eggs into the sand. The scrambled
remnants of a ‘life-never-lived’ drying rapidly in the
hot sun. The waves lapping the shores; the sun going down on
yet another ecological disaster.
recent news story by the Department of Conservation (DOC) is
of protected seabirds being found killed or injured by
blowdarts at Waikanae. One bird reportedly died as a
result and the other one had a dart impaled in their leg.
These birds are Red-billed gulls/tarāpunga, and they are a
protected species under the Wildlife Act. They are a
DOC Supervisor Melody
McLaughlin reportedly said,
demonstrates an astonishing lack of respect for the life and
welfare of our protected species, and we are taking the
matter extremely seriously.”
wildlife shouldn’t be used for target
Indeed they shouldn’t.
shorelines and seas of Aotearoa are the home of many species
of incredible marine animals. Shorebirds such as the
dotterel and oystercatcher live here, guarding their nests,
picking among the shoreline for food, and squabbling.
Seabirds such as petrels and albatross dip and dive for
fish. Stingrays glide on the sand floor in the shallows. The
rock pools are home to many kinds of crabs and
In addition to fish and
birds, Aotearoa has a number of endemic penguins like
the kororā or little blue penguin that are also at
And of critical significance are the Hector’s
dolphin and Māui dolphins who are the rarest and
smallest dolphins in the world. Both are at risk from
overfishing and boat strike among other things. The Māui
dolphin only has between 48 and 64 individuals left is and
the conservation status is nationally
The New Zealand fur seal – or kekeno in
te reo Māori – is another sea animal under threat in our
waters. Their population is now recovering after nearly
becoming extinct from hunting in the 1800s. They are
protected but still harmed by human activities such as
fishing and getting caught in nets, oil and gas exploration,
disturbance from tourism and illegal attacks.
Not quite so cute and
furry is the endemic Aotearoa shellfish called toheroa -a
Māori word meaning “long tongue”. You would think that
living under the heaving and relentless surf of west coast
beaches in Aotearoa would make this little creature
resilient. Not so. Being considered a national delicacy, the
once abundant Toheroa was ‘harvested’ extensively up
until the 1970s and the numbers began collapsing. Despite
quotas being placed on the amount that could be collected,
the never recovered and now remain in decline.
activity is again to blame. One of the reasons that Toheroa
is not recovering is because of recreational activity. In
Aotearoa it is legal to drive cars on many beaches which
presents many threats to marine life. Driving on beaches can
harm them as they live in the sand just below the mid-tide
mark and can be exposed to tyre wheels with the fall of the
tide. People taking more than the quota will also continue
to impact numbers. Sedimentation and toxins also have a
negative impact on them.
Biodiversity needs to be
protected because it is part of a great ecological web and
when a species becomes extinct it weakens this network. For
example, shellfish are considered excellent at filtering
water and removing excess nitrogen. They keep the ocean
Yet many people don’t consider the
biodiversity around them at the beach. Instead, they are
after a day of fun. With the sun’s heat comes people on
jet skis, people on quadbikes and in utes, people with their
loud and blaring music. And in some places, people with
And it all contributes to a loss of very important
is another activity that kills not only fish but also
‘by-kill’ – those animals accidently caught up in
nets or fishing lines or killed by the motor blades of
boats. For example, a day at sea catching fish might end
with the death of an albatross. Albatross often become
fisheries by-catch as they follow fishing boats hoping for
an easy feed of bait and fish scraps.
will take the bait and be dragged under water and
It’s a horrific way to die.
that humans leave behind from their day’s fun also hurts
sea life. At the end of a sunburnt day, an empty plastic
bottle lies motionless on the sand. It grins from its sandy
haven, waiting to be taken on an adventure on the high seas
when the tide comes in. Here it will join the estimated 250
metric tonnes of plastic waste circulating in the world
2018 Forest and Bird spokesperson Karen Baird reported
that Aotearoa waters pose the greatest global risk to
seabirds eating plastic waste. Thousands of seabirds die in
the Northern hemisphere each year due to swallowing plastic.
Alongside overfishing, plastic pollution is contributing to
decline of seabirds and other sea life.
can be depressing. The beach is a good place to think and to
walk; to let words trickle and blossom. And I think of the
word ecocide. Ecology, ecocide, ecological grief. The words
compete for my attention amidst the squawks of
A little dotterel / tuturiwhatu runs rapidly
in front of me, looking back to make sure I am following. I
know this ploy to lead me away from the nest site. I ignore
the tuturiwhatu who then pretends to have a broken wing. I
need to get out of his territory.
I think of ecocide
again. It’s a word that sounds as destructive as it is.
Ecocide is the wilful or negligent destruction of the
natural environment by humans. Ecological grief is the
feelings of deep sorrow experienced by those as a response
to ecological catastrophe.
species of seabirds and shorebirds are endemic. They are
taonga species (treasured species for Māori). The legacy
of European colonisation in Aotearoa includes the extinction
of taonga species.
As the rest of the summer
unfolds in Aotearoa I hope that people will rethink their
actions. The beaches in Aotearoa are not your playground.
They are the home of other animals; of species that have
evolved and lived for centuries. There is a deep history
here that people are riding roughshod over (excuse the
These animals are already under threat from
climate change and ocean acidification. They don’t need
any more stressors.
To those on quadbikes on the beach
I have this message. Take time to reflect on your place in
the world. Think about your relationality with non-human
animals and make changes to your behaviour.
others – take your waste home and consider the animals
whose home you are playing in.
Lest we lose our place