• Nick Smith

The Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith today announced that a proposal to create an ecological area over the saltmarsh and adjacent dry land and intertidal area at Aramoana near the entrance to Otago Harbour is to be publicly advertised.

"At present the 359 hectares of saltmarsh and adjacent land have conservation area status, but the ecological values of Aramoana are nationally important and deserve a higher level of protection. Aramoana contains an impressive vegetation sequence spanning mud flats, saltmarsh, salt meadow and salt-tolerant shrubland - the most extensive ecosystem of its kind left in Otago. The intertidal area, sheltered by a sand spit, is a productive breeding ground for fish and an important shellfish habitat. Large populations of wading birds use Aramoana, and the invertebrate community is also rich and diverse.

"In many populated areas around New Zealand, saltmarsh communities have been degraded by reclamation and development, but at Aramoana, which lies within the boundaries of Dunedin City, the system is largely intact, with the fresh-water run-off grading naturally to saline conditions.

"In the 1970s and 1980s Aramoana became a conservation catch-cry when industrial development was proposed, in particular an aluminium smelter similar in size to Southland's Tiwai Point smelter. The scheme was eventually abandoned and in the 1990s the land at Aramoana, formerly vested in the Otago Harbour Board, was returned to the Crown. The Department of Conservation now manages it.

"The Department proposes to establish the site as an ecological area. The four privately-owned houses on the Spit, adjacent to the saltmarsh, will be excluded from the ecological area. Public notice of the proposal will include provision for objections to be heard," the Minister said.