Sea level rise won’t only affect infrastructure - Forest & Bird

The independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird is asking the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) to widen the focus of her next report on climate change-driven sea level rise.  

A preliminary report on sea level rise was released by the PCE today. The PCE will release another report next year on the impacts of sea level rise on the most vulnerable areas of coastline around the country, and the risks to infrastructure in those areas. 

Forest & Bird Group Manager Campaigns and Advocacy Kevin Hackwell says the next report should also take into account the impacts of sea level rise on our natural coastal ecosystems, and recommend the best ways to deal with sea level rise.

He says some critical natural features could be changed forever by sea level rise.   

“For example the huge Kaipara Harbour north of Auckland covers 947 square kilometres at high tide, with nearly half of that area exposed as mudflats and sandflats at low tide,” Kevin Hackwell says.

“Higher sea levels will reduce the huge intertidal areas and will reduce the highly productive saltmarsh and mangrove areas at the head of the harbour. Some 90 per cent of all the snapper found on the West Coast of New Zealand come from the Kaipara Harbour but that could be changed forever by the rises in sea level the PCE is warning of.

“Quite a few of our shore birds breed just above the current high tide level on our open coasts or at the head of estuaries. For instance the four remaining nesting sites of New Zealand’s Seabird of the Year, the fairy tern, could be wiped out by storm surges,” Kevin Hackwell says. 

“We would also like to see the PCE make recommendations on how sea level rise should be dealt with. Building extensive sea walls is likely to be very expensive, in many places unrealistic, and in the long run may create more problems than they would solve. 

“Creating natural buffer zones provides habitat for the birds and marine species that are losing habitat elsewhere, and these areas often do a much better job of protecting the land behind from the sea.  

“We have already seen a rise in sea level of 20 centimetres in the last century. Mankind has ‘booked in’ another 30 centimetres by 2050, from burning fossil fuels. And if we don’t ramp up the transition to clean energy, sea levels will get a lot higher still,” Kevin Hackwell says. 

“For New Zealand, this means we need to stop mining and using coal, and we shouldn’t be selling the rights to frack and drill for oil and gas on land or around our coasts. 

“The PCE has done a great job with this report. We hope the next report will deal with more than just the impact of sea level rise on our built infrastructure,” Kevin Hackwell says.