NSW residents are fuming after a council pruned protected mangroves this week to give luxury waterfront mansions unimpeded water views.
Critics of the works, conducted on the Mid North Coast, have been sharing their frustration online, with one calling the situation "absolutely horrendous". Another person said they were amazed the area was not protected.
Images supplied to Yahoo News Australia show habitat along the Manning River dramatically slashed. Residents who snapped the photos are outraged that council dollars are being directed towards what they call “destruction” of the wetlands for the “wealthy few”.
It's the first time the periodical works have been completed since 2018, when photos show an industrial digger and slashing equipment being driven along the waterfront.
MidCoast Council, whose contractors are undertaking the works, did not respond to direct questions from Yahoo News Australia, and has not yet agreed to an interview. In a statement, it confirmed similar works have been carried out periodically since 2004 to “maintain views” along the Harrington Waters foreshore.
Despite concerns from residents, council argues the works do not damage the mangroves. "They grow back over time which is the reason for the pruning every number of years," it said.
Why are mangroves important?
Federally, mangroves are classed as “ecologically important ecosystems” and they are ordinarily protected by state law. While corporations who destroy mangroves can face fines of up to $220,000, MidCoast Council was granted a permit from the NSW Department of Fisheries (DPI) that allows it to conduct pruning, although it has refused to supply a copy of the document.
Mangroves are protected across the state because they improve water quality, stop erosion and provide essential habitat for aquatic life and birds.
Council slashing mangroves to stop their destruction
Council justified the pruning, saying it will “eliminate unauthorised damage or removal” of the mangroves, ensuring they can continue to “stabilise the bank”.
This reasoning was labelled “absurd” by Geoff Leighton who lives on the opposite side of the river in Manning Point. “So basically, if you threaten to poison or cut down mangroves, the council will come and prune them for you,” he said.
He believes MidCoast Council's hypothesis contrasts with the efforts of councils in other parts of the state to fight habitat vandalism. In 2013, Waverley Council initiated a “two for one” tree replacement policy for damaged trees, while a year later Manly Council erected a fabric screen to block a view created by tree removal.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia on Friday, Mr Leighton renewed his call for local government to abandon its pruning program and let the mangroves reach their true height to match nearby ecosystems.
However, change to the pruning policy looks unlikely with council telling Yahoo News Australia it has been in place since 2004. "(It) was a condition of the development approval for the Harrington Waters estate,” it said in a statement.
Expert believes thin mangrove strip offers limited protection
Dr Vincent Raoult is an expert on Mid North Coast mangroves and advocates for their protection. He said it’s “unfortunate” that mangroves remain a “hairy subject” as many people still see them as ugly, despite their ecological significance.
However, when it comes to the Harrington Waters mangrove strip, he believes they likely only offer limited protection to the river bank. “When the mangrove forest is very narrow, which is the case in this particular area, then it's quite hard for that mangrove to actually have that good stabilisation effect,” he said.
He’s also pragmatic when it comes to habitat preservation versus human needs. “I could say objectively yes destroying mangroves is not usually not a great thing,” he said. “But we have to balance managing our ecosystems with our needs as a society. And that's not always easy to do.”
Roche Group, which developed the 172-hectare Harrington Waters estate, has been contacted for comment.
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