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Four-wheel drive vehicles are damaging sand dunes

Beach users and residents work to resolve issue of four-wheel drive damage to dunes

More official parking spots, better vehicle security, and informative signs may help to reduce the damage caused byrom four-wheel drive vehicles to sand dunes between Otamarakau and Matata.

About 30 local landowners, surfcasters and beach users came up with these suggestions – and more – at a community meeting in Otamarakau on Tuesday 20 April. Coast Care Bay of Plenty set up the meeting in response to a request from residents to try and resolve the issue of rapidly escalating vehicle damage to sand dunes.

Coast Care’s Suzy O’Neill says the long, mostly unpopulated stretch of beach has developed “an unfortunate reputation” among four-wheel drive users. While some used existing, relatively harmless tracks through the back of the dunes, others made their own new tracks, or parked their vehicles on dune crests vulnerable to erosion. This damages the sand-binding vegetation and weakens the storm-buffering function of dunes.

“It’s getting worse all the time,” Ms O’Neill says. “The community and beach users have noticed a significant increase in damage to dunes over the past few years as recreational four-wheel drives become vastly more common and more people use them on the beaches and dunes.”

At the meeting, people identified some of the attitudes and behaviours contributing to the problem. They included an apparent lack of respect by some vehicle users for the beach environment and a lack of awareness of their impact on it. Sometimes laziness prompted people to drive even short distances instead of walking, creating new and random tracks. Others insisted on joyriding over the dunes, destroying them in the process. Horses trekking through the dunes are also an issue.

Ideas for improving the situation included formalising specific access locations for vehicles to reduce random vehicle tracks and improving car parking facilities and security. People wanted more signs with dune care information and directions for vehicles. Many of the surf fishers also grasped the challenge to take responsibility for informing fellow beach users of the best ways to keep the dunes in good condition for all to enjoy.

“Education was identified as a big issue,” Ms O’Neill says. “It is important that those who drive on the dunes understand that they are damaging them and stop doing it in erosion-sensitive areas.”

Coast Care Bay of Plenty is a partnership between the community, coastal district councils and Environment Bay of Plenty. Coast Care staff will now follow up the suggestions with landowners and the relevant district councils.

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