A hugely popular but overused swimming hole in Northland frequented by people from all over the world will be indefinitely closed to stop it being further degraded.
The Te Whanau ā Rangiwhakaahu hapu will put a rāhui in place over the Mermaid Pools at the northern headland of Matapouri and the access route over the Rangitapu headland to restore their environment, cultural and spiritual wellbeing.
A decision on when the rāhui will be put in place is yet to be decided.
The picturesque, turquoise tidal rock pools are enormously popular and the hapu trust board chairman Aperahama Edwards said there were more than 600 local and overseas tourists who visited the popular spot in just five hours on a summer day.
While a rāhui was in place, he said his hapu members would discuss with community groups, Department of Conservation, and other government agencies how to better protect the pools in future, including infrastructure development.
"There are environmental issues, there are safety issues in that there's no provision of basic infrastructure like a proper track, no toilets, rubbish disposal facilities and all these things will have to be addressed going forward," Edwards said.
"We'd like to see the long-term care and protection of the pools and our wahi tapu and we take heart from the groundswell of support and they all say this has been a long time coming.
Edwards said the intent of the rāhui was to ensure the pristine environment was preserved for the future generation.
The decision to place a rāhui over Mermaid Pools has garnered support from environmentalists, community groups, and civic leaders across Northland.
Community group Kapa Kaitiaki has monitored the condition of the track, the number of people frequenting the pools, and sea conditions, for about four weeks from mid-January.
"There were about 450 people in just five to six hours during the anniversary weekend with a high number of overseas tourists. Some of the visitors we spoke to were from places like Slovakia and Colombia," group member Dorothy Waetford said.
Together with other group members Ngapera Hohepa and Tepora Jennings and local artists, they have painted pou and installed them and signs around Matapouri to create awareness and to educate people about rangitapu.
Tutukaka-based ocean ecologist Glenn Edney said the tipping point was reached this year in terms of environment degradation, particularly the state of the pool.
"The pool has gone from being a vibrant, healthy eco system to a barren waste land.
Seaweeds and algae are either dead or dying and in ecological terms there are too many nutrients getting into the pool and the main culprit is urine.
"I'd say we should allow the pool time to recover by giving it a rest for say up to two years.
"The ecosystem is very complex and dynamic so it's very difficult to say how long it takes for them to recover and balance."
Edney said the pool used to have crayfish, octopus, shrimp and crabs but he recently saw one snapper and a few, sick-looking kina.
Whangārei District Councillor Anna Murphy, whose Hikurangi-Coastal ward covers Matapouri, said it was wrong to promote the pools locally and internationally when they were in such a degraded state.
"Our message should be that we care about our natural environment, and the health and biodiversity of our eco system. The pool is dead ... there's no life in it.
"The initiative taken by the local hapu to protect the environment is a model other coastal communities around New Zealand can adopt because it's really important people are aware what a healthy eco system looks like," she said.
Northland Regional Councillor Paul Dimery spoke about the issue at this week's Tutukaka Ratepayers and Residents Association's meeting and said the pool and the track leading to it were dangerous for people to use.
"The track is dirty and dangerous and it's not user friendly. If we want to attract people there, then there has to be proper facilities. This is probably a bigger attraction than the Tane Mahuta," he said.
Association chairperson Lesley Armstrong-Jennings said there has been several incidents over the years where people have fallen and injured themselves going up and over the hill to access the pool.
"Personally I am happy that the local hapu has got involved. The association tried to get DoC and the local council involved over the years without success."