Climate change adaptation for vulnerable species 

There is currently a lot of attention on adaptation for sea level rise. Extreme weather events, such as Cyclone Gita, highlight the vulnerability of major infrastructure assets, as well as private property. These events are also having a major impact on our coastal environments and wildlife in ways that may permanently change the shape of these areas.  

Protection of the real estate of our most vulnerable ecological and heritage sites doesn’t feature prominently in conversations around sea level rise. This leads me to wonder whether we’re doing enough to protect and enhance the long-term viability of our ecological and heritage capital around the coast.  A rough estimate of our currently protected heritage sites suggests that just under 10% of these sites are within 100m of the coast and many of our most critically threatened species, such as the Southern NZ dotterel, nestin scapes in the sand which can be significantly damaged by rising sea levels and storm surges.   

I’m not detracting from the good work that has been done in many areas around this issue and the recently released report from MfE Recommendations for Adapting to Climate Change which identifies the urgent need for a much more coherent, joined up thinking and leadership around climate change adaptation.  My concern is that the changes that are needed to protect our most vulnerable species need to happen with more pace. Returning to the dotterel, the Threatened Species Recovery Plan doesnot specifically identify sea level rise as a threat for the species and therefore the advocacy, financial and land use planning needed to support any necessary adaptation may not be occurring 

Whilst there are excellent examples of adaptation such as the fairy tern habitat protection work completed by NZDF and DoCto raise their nesting sites and protect them from king tides and storm surges, it is clear that we do not currently have a clear plan for prioritisation or protection of many of these assets or a comprehensive toolbox for adaptation The reality is that land use planning measures and enhancement of habitat can take a significant amount of time to progress particularly because it will require significant funding inputs 

As an Auckland resident, I’m hopeful that the natural environment targeted rate proves an effective mechanism to fund critical ecological initiatives and it would be good to see such levies supporting important community-driven adaptation initiatives  


Carole Smith is Technical Director Environment at WSP Opus. With over 20 years’ experience in environmental consulting in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, she is passionate about making a difference for the environment and for our communities