The Stuff news website is to be congratulated for starting a concerted campaign on climate change in New Zealand. This was kicked off yesterday with a brilliant feature article from Stuff National Correspondent Charlie Mitchell called Beach Road The Rising Sea and the Reshaping of NZ
This is the best in-depth reporting I have seen on the impact of sea-level rise in New Zealand. What makes it particularly interesting for Thames-Coromandel readers is that it begins with an anecdotal account from local Moanataiari, Thames resident Tracey Reeves who talks about her experience during the January 5 storm surge.
UPDATE; The story is on the front page of the Hauraki Herald.
I have included the Moanataiari introduction to the article in full below. Please take time to read the whole article. It is beautifully written and will hold your attention to the end.
Stuff kicked off the campaign for with a whole series of articles on climate change with more to come –
The worst climate change denial myths, debunked by experts
Climate change costs are hitting households through insurance premiums
Lower Hutt suburb could be swallowed up by sea level rise in just 80 years
New Zealanders have a ‘thin fear’ of climate change
Climate change 101: The most important things to understand about this urgent problem
Moanataiari Thames – Introduction to Charlie Mitchell’s feature Article on Sea Level Rise in Stuff
“When the sun is out, Tracey Reeves perches atop a seawall with her fishing rod, resting her coffee on one of the large, jagged boulders holding back the sea.
On a weekday morning, locals are walking their dogs along the concrete footpath trailing the top of the seawall. Waves on a recent high tide scattered some of the rocks, which are being replaced by contractors with a digger.
One of the great attractions of life in Moanataiari, a suburb of Thames on the Coromandel coast, is that it’s surrounded by water. For an angler like Reeves, who lived in Auckland for decades where she built boats, the appeal of a quiet life by the water was obvious.
The seawall is a dominating feature of Moanataiari because it’s so tall. From her fishing spot, Reeves can keep an eye on the television in her living room, which is several metres below her.
The suburb was built on reclaimed land, which is slowly sinking; Some of the land is now below sea-level, meaning that at high tide, the water level can rise above the houses. From above, it has a peculiar effect: Moanataiari looks like a mixing bowl floating in a sink full of water
For Reeves, her new life in Moanataiari was perfect until the first major storm. It arrived on the morning of January 5, 2018, at the same time as a king tide.
It was expected to be a big one, but at first, it seemed to have been over-egged. Although the waves steadily grew higher, there was no rain, just an ominous grey shroud. Then it started to pick up. Northerly winds fuelled waves that screamed down the firth and smashed against the seawall, every so often flooding onto the road and leaking through the top of the seawall.
At its height, waves were crashing over the wall and down onto the road.
“It was the first storm we’ve experienced of that size,” Reeves says.
“We sit here and we’re below the water when the tide comes in, and that day I think every seventh wave was higher than the wall. It was quite frightening.”
Reeves took several videos before the storm hit its peak. In one video, she scans the top of the seawall where the rocks are scattered everywhere, including her coffee table. “It’ll never be the same,” she says.
Another video shows a council officer rushing to his car and driving away as a large wave crashes over the wall.
Moanataiari has long been on a war-footing with the sea – it has a dedicated pumping station and industrial sized drains on each side of the road. When a storm comes, locals know to park their cars further away, so they don’t become trapped. The day after the storm ended, the tide receded, and everything was quiet. Reeves was mowing the lawn, and business continued as usual.
In a time where extreme weather events are becoming more frequent as a consequence of human-induced climate change, the long-term fate of communities like Moanataiari is uncertain.
Buying into a suburb below sea-level wasn’t a concern for Reeves. She did her research, told the bank, and felt it wouldn’t be a problem in the near future. She acknowledges the sea is rising, but wants to live in her house forever, so it doesn’t matter if it loses value.
The storm, however, was a clear harbinger of what was to come. Although it won’t worry her, she can see the impact on future generations, as the storms get worse.
“I sort of worry for the kids,” she says.
“I do believe [the water] is probably going to come in. In the next 30 years I think the high tide will become an issue.”