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Quiet skies at Punakaiki deserve protection

Quiet skies at Punakaiki deserve protection

Punakaiki residents, tourists and Paparoa National Park could be buzzed by helicopters for up to eleven hours a day if the Grey District Council approves a helicopter tourism proposal.

Garden of Eden Helicopters Ltd seeks resource consent for air tourism flights from a helipad on the edge of Paparoa National Park, about 2.5 kms south of Punakaiki village.

“Air tourism at Punakaiki is inappropriate and would benefit a few at the expense of the many. It is anther example of poorly planned tourism development which is blighting the Paparoa coast and the fringes of the national park,” said Forest and Bird field officer, Simon Johnson said.

“Frequent helicopter noise and traffic also risks disturbing the endemic Westland Petrel and its flights to and from the sea to feed. The Westland Petrel is the largest of the oceanic, burrow-nesting seabirds. It is a threatened species and its only breeding area is in and close to Paparoa National Park, within a kilometre of the proposed helicopter take-off site.”

The company’s proposal is for up to 4 flights per hour generally from 8am to 7pm or up to 44 flights and 88 take-offs and landings per day. The flight paths would include Pancake Rocks and Paparoa National Park and “where the customer wishes to go”. The company’s only proposed limitations are to stay at least 500m offshore from Pancake Rocks and to maintain an altitude of 500 feet.

“Helicopter noise would be an unpleasant intrusion for visitors to the Pancake Rocks, the most visited conservation site on the West Coast, and for walkers, kayakers and others in the Pororari, Punakaiki and Fox River valleys and elsewhere in the national park,” Mr Johnson said.

“Tourists have many opportunities for scenic flights over conservation land at Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, around Milford Sound, and in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Aircraft are a major disturbance there, without also compromising the enjoyment of others and quiet skies over Paparoa National Park.”

Submissions on the application close with the Grey District Council on Monday, 24 March 2003.

“Forest and Bird hopes that the Grey District Council will protect the natural quiet of Paparoa National Park and the Westland Petrel breeding area by declining consent,” Mr Johnson said.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Background Information . Problems with the air tourism proposal include:

1. The Westland Petrel Procellaria westlandica The proposed landing pad is approximately half a kilometre from the only breeding area of the Westland Petrel Procellaria westlandica. The Westland Petrel is the largest of the oceanic, burrow-nesting seabirds. It is a robust, blackish-brown petrel.

The Westland Petrel is a Category B seriously threatened species according to the Department of Conservation’s endangered species classification. It is a Ngai Tahu taonga species. It breeds in winter only in the coastal limestone hills between the Punakaiki River and Lawson Creek at the northern end of Barrytown flats. The total population is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 birds with an estimated 6,000 breeding adults. Aircraft are not permitted in the airspace above the colony

The birds fly out to sea to feed daily during winter. Regular helicopter traffic close to the colony could disturb breeding birds or their flights to and from sea.

2. The loss of natural quiet The Pancake Rocks are the single most popular tourist attraction on the West Coast. A key management issue for DOC is to maintain the visitor experience while dealing with the increasing visitor pressure. DOC recognises disturbance of natural quiet by intrusive noise from aircraft as an adverse effect of flights over conservation areas.

For many visitors to conservation areas, natural quiet is an important component of their experience. DOC considers that Fox and Franz Josef glaciers have already had their ‘natural quiet’ significantly degraded.

DOC has a specific objective in the West Coast Conservation Management Strategy (p 200) “To work with regulatory agencies and the air transport industry to maintain places free from the adverse effects of aircraft overflights in order to protect wildlife and provide opportunities for people to experience nature without the intrusion of mechanised noise”

Garden of Eden Helicopters Ltd. Garden of Eden Helicopters Ltd was incorporated on 26 March 2001. The registered office is: C/- Offices Of Wilding Smith & Co, 3rd Floor Como House, 51 Tancred Street, Hokitika The director is Barry Henry Grant Foster.

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