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LPC puts cruise ships before endangered Pahu dolpins

Lyttleton Port Company puts cruise ships before endangered Pahu (Hector’s) dolphins

Construction work by the Lyttleton Port Company is putting cruise ships ahead of endangered dolphins, says global animal-welfare organisation World Animal Protection, even when alternative construction options are available to the company.

The port company has decided to expedite the creation of its cruise-ship wharf in Lyttleton Harbour, using pile driving, six days a week from this July until early 2020, in a way that may further endanger already vulnerable Hector’s (Pahu) dolphins; as well as subject local residents to ‘inconvenient’ noise levels. .

Scientific evidence* shows this style of construction work creates unnecessary noise harm and disturbance to the dolphins, with potential physical and behavioural damage; driving them into habitat unprotected from fishing threats and therefore exposing the dolphins to even greater risk.

The Lyttleton Port Company (LPC) previously applied for Resource Consent for construction of an international cruise-ship wharf capable of hosting the world’s largest cruise liners. Evidence submitted to the Resource Consent Hearing from University of Otago Professor, and leading Hector’s dolphin expert, Dr Steve Dawson - found that pile driving noise could cause hearing and other physical damage as well as displacement of the dolphins, putting them at further risk from other human threats.

The original application sought consent for the installation of 60, 1.20m diameter steel piles, driven 66m into the seabed by being hit with a 9-14 tonne ‘hammer’. Professor Dawson recommended the use of screw piles to reduce the noise impact. Screw piles can make virtually no noise, (and can be cheaper) allowing construction of the wharf with appropriate regard to dolphin welfare and survival.

Instead, the port company put its Resource Consent application on hold, while it “considered” ways to mitigate the impacts of pile driving on the threatened dolphins. However, a notice posted on the port company website** now demonstrates how the company has got around the Resource Consent issue by scaling back the size of the wharf and using slightly smaller piles so that the work can proceed under the post-earthquake ‘Lyttleton Port Recovery Plan’. This now means no Resource Consent is required for the wharf itself, though the port plans to apply for consent for its use as an international cruise ship terminal later.

Local resident Mr Adam Joyce says “this is acting in bad faith and avoids the port company taking proper measures to protect the endearing dolphins which are known and loved by locals and harbour users, from pile driving impacts. The company notice also says that noise levels for locals cannot be mitigated, when we know that this too, is not strictly the case. A reduction of noise could in fact be possible.

World Animal Protection and Otago University’s Dr Dawson agrees, with Dawson saying the company appears to be taking a short cut to avoid the proper consenting process. “It’s inappropriate to use the Port Recovery Plan for something of scale that would otherwise trigger a Resource Consent, apparently just to avoid proper mitigation for the dolphins”. LPC did not seem to take seriously any piling method other than impact-pile driving. It’s clear that screw piling, if practical, would produce far less noise, both above and below the water and would have much less impact on threatened dolphins.”

With the Lyttleton Port Company saying the noise from the new proposal cannot be successfully mitigated, this adds to World Animal Protection concerns. “A Resource Consent would require the applicant to ‘avoid, remedy or mitigate’ adverse effects; including for dolphins and local residents alike. Lyttleton Port Company is going around this requirement by slightly modifying their plans and avoiding a resource consent for the wharf altogether, putting harm in the dolphins’ way. We therefore urge an immediate review of the wharf construction method”.

Hector’s (Pahu) dolphins are among the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphins, and are found only in New Zealand. They are being driven to extinction by a range of threats, and remain unprotected throughout their full range.


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