Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage disagrees with a newly formed group that the Waikanae estuary is dying.
Waikanae Estuary Whitebaiters Network claimed the estuary was dying, citing a broad scale mapping report by scientists Leigh Stevens and Barry Robertson showed the estuary in a moderate state due to habitat loss, smothering siltation, excessive nutrients from runoff and disease risk.
The causes singled out include residential development around the perimeter and associated drainage, flood and erosion protection measures, drainage of wetland areas, channelisation of streams, and the cutting of tidal flows to the northern end of the reserve arm of the estuary which "significantly adversely impacts on native fish spawning and bird habitat".
"I disagree with your view that the estuary is dying and that the scientific reserve status should be revoked."
The network wrote to the minister raising concerns about the estuary and wishing to challenge the prohibition of driving within the estuary which is part of a scientific reserve.
Sage wrote to the two groups.
"I disagree with your view that the estuary is dying and that the scientific reserve status should be revoked.
"The level of protection provided by scientific reserve status is precisely what is needed to minimise further degradation of this significant site.
"Allowing vehicles to drive through the reserve would only serve to exacerbate the degradation and hamper efforts by the Department of Conservation and the community to restore the estuary.
"It is my understanding that the department works closely with a local care group to restore the estuary according to an agreed restoration plan, and that the department has worked with regional and local councils to improve fish passage and minimise catchment effects on the estuary.
"I have also received correspondence seeking stronger controls on vehicles on the beach to protect wildlife, the reserve and members of the public.
"I am confident the department's management of the estuary is appropriate and so I do not see the need for any further inquiry on my behalf."
The network felt Sage had chosen to ignore the "serious degradation of the estuary's ecological values in the report" which was commissioned by Greater Wellington Regional Council.
"We now have two diametrically opposed views about the state of the estuary — one from the Department of Conservation which has a vested interest in denying reality and the other from independent ecological scientists with no axe to grind."
"That raises serious questions about public transparency and accountability and we have again asked for a ministerial inquiry so that DOC funding can be justified if it is found the scientific reserve should be continued."
It said the minister accepted degradation had occurred "but is not prepared to do anything about it except to say in her letter that she support efforts to stop vehicles using the beach".
"The saddest part of the minister's response was that it offered no leadership or solutions for restoring the ecological health of the Waikanae estuary."