Neptune’s necklace, seagrass, cockles, pipi, abundant fish, clean clear water and a sandy sea floor easily crossed on foot at low tide – that’s the Northern Tauranga Harbour of Rosalie Smith’s childhood.

“The healthy harbour was our playground. The only mangroves were to the south at Matahui and the harbour floor was not muddy like it is today,” Rosalie says. She grew up at Athenree on the harbour’s northern shores and has been an active and long-time campaigner for the restoration of its environment.

Rosalie, 90, was a foundation member of the Uretara Estuary Managers, created in 2004 to address a range of water quality and biodiversity issues associated with the Uretara Stream which flows into the harbour. In 2020 the board agreed to adopt Project Parore as the new name for the activities of the society.

Lawrie Donald, chair of Project Parore says Rosalie’s childhood memories clearly illustrate that Tauranga Harbour was not always muddy.

“Just because that’s the way it is now, people think it’s always been like that.”

Project Parore is an environmental restoration initiative based in the Katikati area covering eight adjoining catchments: Aongatete, Waitekohe, Te Mania, Te Rereatukahia, Uretara, Tahawai, Tuapiro and Waiau, all of which flow from the Kaimai range into the northern tidal zone of the Tauranga Harbour.

In order to restore the harbour to an environment in which the once-abundant parore fish, shellfish and seaweeds can flourish, Project Parore is working with Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, three local hapu and local landowners to create comprehensive catchment management plans to address a range of water quality and biodiversity issues.

It has signed a memorandum of understanding with sector groups including Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, Zespri and NZ Avocado, which represent the major commercial land users in the area.

Up to July 1 this year, 52,395 plants, 1610 metres of fencing and 8.1 hectares of land have been retired thanks to the work of Project Parore, volunteers and landowners.

“Many sites were horticultural land so no need for fencing as there are no livestock. Also we have urban planting around the harbour foreshore and again no fencing required,” says Lawrie.

“Now we have extended our area of operation, we will double those numbers and expect to secure funding from the Ministry for the Environment soon to continue that work.”

That funding will enable Project Parore to employ people to carry out pest control and planting, assisting the landowners and volunteers already working in the catchments. And Project Parore has the ambitious goal of Northern Tauranga Harbour region eventually becoming predator-free. Predator control operations, largely run by volunteers, are already underway along many of the areas bordering the harbour, including in urban Katikati. Project Parore is also working with landowners to encourage retirement and planting of stream boundaries and the installation of fish ladders to provide access for whitebait to upstream spawning areas.

Lawrie says funding is often available for much of the conservation work landowners wish to undertake and he and other members of Project Parore are available to talk with them about their plans and the resources they can tap into.

“Our aim is to protect waterways to make the harbour pristine again. It’s not about blaming anyone. It’s about avoiding the impacts on waterways and the harbour of activities on the land. Everybody has an impact on the environment, so we need to learn how to do things in ways which are best for our harbour.”