Campaigners pushing for a cleanup of Hatea River collected more than 170 signatures at the first "Take the Plunge" event on the Canopy Bridge on a balmy day.
The inaugural event at noon yesterday attracted 38 swimmers who took a plunge off the bridge, including Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai, Councillor Tricia Cutforth and heavily-pregnant businesswoman Jessica White, who is three weeks away from giving birth.
The event, organised by TogetherTahi, wants people to reflect on the polluted state of the Hatea. Ms Mai was the first to take the plunge off the Canopy Bridge and stayed in the water for about 20 minutes before climbing on to a pontoon and hosing herself.
Whangarei Community Circus and Company of Giants provided games and circus activities for children, while the "Take the Plunge" event was happening.
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"The pollution of this beautiful river has happened over time so it's important for the [Whangarei District] Council to put better systems in place so sewage does not overflow straight into the water," Ms White said yesterday.
"I think what's happening today is the beginning of a conversation to reverse the damage that's already been done to the harbour."
Event organiser Hannah White of TogetherTahi said public response had been awesome, with 173 people signing a petition that would be presented to the Whangarei District and the Northland Regional Councils.
She said the petition would be put online so those who were not at yesterday's event or who forgot to sign up could do so.
"What the response shows is people supporting priority being given to clean up our waterways. We want the councils to make the clean up more of a priority," she said.
Ms White said plans were underway to organise the "Take the Plunge" event annually until 2025.
NRC has tested the Basin water five times this year, and twice - in March and September - it had recorded bacteria levels above that considered safe for swimming.