A young Paeroa mum of three found out the horrible way how much life was lurking in a small waterway bordering her urban property. Strolling beside Aorangi Stream one morning in February 2016, Eowyn Starr noticed the water was pale pink in colour. When about 100 eels and kokopu (native fresh water fish) floated lifeless to the surface, she realised something was seriously amiss.
"I contacted Waikato Regional Council and they had ecologists on the scene really quickly who were able to trace it back to the source, which was great because the obvious signs, apart from the dead eels, passed pretty quickly," she said.
It turned out chemicals being used by Chemwash, a company contracted to clean the outside of a retirement home in the area, had found their way into the stream. Eowyn recalls fishing out the dead eels and fish with a net.
"I had dishwashing gloves on but could still smell and feel the chemicals on my skin," she explains.
Taken to court by Waikato Regional Council, Chemwash has recently been sentenced and fined $39,000 for its actions, which you could say is a fitting end to a sorry story. But for Eowyn the story doesn’t end there. Halfway through a bachelor of science majoring in ecology at Massey University, she’s working on a refreshing new chapter in the stream’s tale.
"I’ve always wanted to do something with the stuff I’m learning and this (pollution incident) gave me the incentive I needed and made me realise how much life is actually living in these little ditches. It (Aorangi Stream) doesn’t look like much at all, people throw rubbish in it, it’s opaque and unappealing, but it actually harbours surprisingly large numbers of fish and other life," she said.
Working with Hauraki District Council and Waikato Regional Council staff, Eowyn has since traipsed up and down the banks of the 3600m spring-fed stream to identify issues and trouble spots, researched stream care projects in other areas, and put together a detailed proposal to improve the health of the stream and build community understanding at the same time.
This week she took her findings to the Hauraki District Council where she received unanimous support and a $5000 initial contribution. Councillor Anne Marie Spicer was nominated to provide support throughout the project.
"I take my hat off to all the hard work Eowyn has put into this. It’s really exciting to be part of something that could provide a template for similar projects throughout the District," she says, "Cleaning up our rivers and streams is on the nationwide agenda and it’s fantastic to see we’re ahead of the game here in Hauraki with innovative and forward thinking community initiatives like this."
Mayor John Tregidga, who’s recently been re-elected as Chair of the Hauraki Gulf Forum which is tasked with the protection and enhancement of the Hauraki Gulf, says in his experience the most successful environmental projects start at ground level.
"It’s incredibly heart-warming to see this busy young mum getting out there and doing something really positive about an issue she’s noticed in her own backyard. Because that’s where it all starts. These small streams, feed into bigger rivers and eventually it all winds up in the ocean. She has my support, all the way."