Growing dunes with native species

Published 22/09/2020

Helping to beautify the dunes on Petone beach.

By Jim McNaughton

In the mid-eighties, The Friends of Petone Beach was formed as part of plans to beautify Petone. In 2004, with support of Hutt City Council, the Petone Dune Restoration Project kicked off and has seen the extension of dune formation all the way along the seawall between the Wharf and Jessie Street.

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A few years ago, Petone Beach was pretty bare. With few plants to hold the dunes together, they were eaten away by storms and high tides, and blown away in the wind.

 

Dune restoration started with the planting of pingao, a native golden sand sedge only found in New Zealand and spinifex, a silvery sand grass. These species help trap blowing sand allowing the formation of dunes.
In August, a group of Wellington Water staff popped across the road to the Petone foreshore, where we supported the Friends of Petone Beach for a planting day. This was the fourth year Wellington Water has pitched in with planting.

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Graeme Lyon giving Wellington Water staff a quick lesson in planting mingimingi.

 
The event organiser, Graeme Lyon, had about one hundred native pingao and muehlenbeckia (pohuehue) plants, donated by Hutt City Council, to plant along the back of the dunes.


The plants were cultivated from seeds collected from Petone Beach by Hutt City Council Reserves Community Ranger, Riba, in December and January. Riba said she sends seeds for propagation to the Coastlands Nursery in Whakatane, which specialises in dune plants. “Using natives grown from seeds in the region means the plants have a better chance of surviving as they are genetically adapted for that specific environment."

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Native plants create prime habitat for our native wildlife, as well as protecting the shoreline from coastal erosion.

 
Graeme said the plants were critical in protecting the dunes from storm surge damage and rising sea levels, reducing the amount of sand blown onto properties along the beachfront, and restoring the native biodiversity.


He said that natives have a functional advantage, too. “Natives, such as pingao, which is endemic to New Zealand, make a more resilient beach than exotic species. The natives catch the sand and make dunes for waves to roll over. An exotic like marram grass tends to make a shelf in the sand, which gets undercut by waves in storm surges.”