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Coastal EcologyHauropi Taha Moana

Hawke's Bay's diverse coastline is home to wide variety of creatures and you can find out about our research and annual monitoring of coastal ecology.

Gannets, godwits and whales all find a home along the Hawke’s Bay coastline. Our diverse coastline provides nesting, resting and feeding places among the cliffs, dunes, rock platforms, estuaries, herb fields and sandy and gravel beaches. The creatures that live here range in size from  tiny animals living in the sand and mud of our estuaries and beaches, through to the huge Southern Right Whales which use the Hawke’s Bay coastal waters as a nursery for their young.  

The 3 yearly State of the Environment report provides an update on the coastal environment and our monitoring.

2021 coastal bird survey

This is the first time we commissioned a survey of our coast from the top to the bottom, with over 32,000 birds counted over the 2021 summer.

We counted 79 bird species, with 72% being natives birds. We also surveyed 65 estuaries and lagoons showing native species thriving in these environments.

Read the full report here

Read the media release here

Watch the Facebook live session here

Research Roadmap 2018

Hawke's Bay Marine and Coastal Group Roadmap

roadmapThe Hawke’s Bay Marine and Coast Advisory Group (HBMaC) wanted to build on the existing Hawke’s Bay marine review and clarify the research needs which would assist in our understanding, and facilitate the ongoing sustainable management of the Hawke’s Bay CMA. The Research Roadmap was released in 2018 by Hon Stuart Nash, then Minister of Fisheries.

roadmap launchIt defines the HBMaC’s intent and vision, to ’achieve a healthy and functioning marine ecosystem in Hawke's Bay that supports abundant and sustainable fishery’. The Roadmap sets out research themes in terms of broader objectives, anticipated outcomes, and associated sub-themes. 

Regional Council has been working towards filling the information needs outlined in the road map around Habitats and Ecosystems and Coastal and Terrestrial Linkages.  This is part of the core work undertaken by the Regional Council Marine and Coast team to provide a better understanding of the state and health of our coastal and subtidal marine area. 

This work includes:

  • Hydrodynamic Model of Hawke’s Bay
  • Key Ecological Areas Report
  • Glider missions
  • River Input Model for Hawke Bay
  • Mapping Wairoa Hard and Clive Hard
  • Exploring subtidal habitats with ROV
  • Coastal Bird Survey

Find more information on this work here

For more information on any of these programmes, please contact

hbmacIn 2016, the Hawke’s Bay Marine and Coast Advisory Group (HBMaC) was formed around concerns over the perceived localised depletion of inshore finfish stocks and environmental degradation in Hawke’s Bay coastal marine area (CMA).  The HBMaC’s purpose is to provide recommendations on improving the information and evidential base of decision-making in the management of Hawke’s Bay CMA.  The multi-stakeholder HBMaC group includes recreational and commercial fishing interests, tangata whenua, government agencies and the Regional Council. 

Sustainable Seas

The HBMaC is collaborating with the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge as a regional case study.  The goal of the study is to enable ecosystem based management (EBM) by taking a holistic approach to managing the marine ecosystem.  You can find out more information at their website.

 Find out more about our coastal environment in our video


Significant Coastal Areas

Some areas along our coast and in our coastal waters are designated as ‘Significant’ in the Regional Coastal Environment Plan -

Cape Kidnappers is an iconic emblem of Hawke’s Bay.  It is a site of international importance as one of the world’s most accessible mainland gannet colonies. 

Pania Reef is the most significant feature of the Hawke's Bay seabed.  Lying approximately 800m north of the Port of Napier, not only is this series of banks and pinnacles iconic of Napier, signifying important cultural legend, but also provides habitat for crayfish and many fish species.

shane and co

Waimarama and Ocean Beaches are long, sandy beaches popular with holidaymakers, swimmers and surfers.  The dunes at Ocean Beach represent the most intact dune system remaining on the eastern North Island between East Cape and Wellington.  It provides important habitat for penguins, sea birds, lizards, and is the last stronghold of the native sand binder, pingao.

Further north the Waitangi Regional Park encompasses the common mouth of the three major river systems; the Ngaruroro, the Tūtaekurī and the Clive to form the Waitangi Estuary.  Along with the Tukituki Estuary, these areas estuaries are important wildlife areas and have been designated Recommended Areas for Protection (RAPs) by the Department of Conservation. 

The Ahuriri Estuary near Napier is one of the few estuaries within city boundaries and is a vital summer feeding ground for migrating godwits from Alaska. Along with the chain of coastal wetlands from the mouth of the Wairoa River to the Whakaki Lagoon, and the Maungawhio Lagoon near Māhia, these are all estuary areas of national importance for fisheries and wildlife values.

The Wairoa Hard (named for its coarse cobble substrate) is an area of national importance as it provides a nursery for juvenile fish, snapper, hammerhead shark, bronze whalers, John Dory and trevally.

Around the perimeter of Māhia Peninsula a number of significant areas have significant ecological values and coastal landscapes, such as the rock platforms formed by earthquake uplifts and the wind and water sculpted rocks on the northern coast.

Vehicle ban areas

One of the largest threats to animals on beaches is motor vehicles which damage habitats, food chains, bird nests and animals, particularly heavy 4-wheel drive vehicles that can access almost any part of a beach. Vehicles are prohibited in these valuable coastal areas:

Māhia (Wairoa) and Te Angiangi (CHB)

Vehicles are not permitted to drive out to the low tide mark on the inter-tidal rock platforms or reefs at either Mahia or Te Angiangi. Driving on hard sand at or above the high tide mark is allowed for access. Please park your vehicle safely and walk.

Shingle bank between Waitangi and Tukituki Estuaries

Vehicles are banned from the shingle bank between Waitangi and Tukituki Estuaries because of the damage done to the shingle bank and the seabirds nesting or resting there. Fishing is permitted but people need to walk their gear in from designated parking areas, and take care where they walk to not disturb birds or destroy eggs.

Our coastal ecological monitoring programme looks at inter-tidal reefs, sandy beaches and estuaries. 

We look at ecosystem health and the level of contaminants in the mud, sand or gravel, to measure the impacts of human activities on the crabs, snails, fish and other creatures that live there.

For more information on any of these programmes, please contact

Kairakau Intertidal ReefRocky inter-tidal reefs make up 35% of Hawke’s Bay's coastline and are some of the most biologically diverse habitats in Hawke’s Bay. School children enjoy rocky shore outings to study the fascinating wildlife living in these places - the migrating sea birds, and larger fish and mammal species that rely on these areas for food.

The inter-tidal areas are exposed at low tide and are underwater at high tide. They provide important feeding grounds, and nursery areas for young creatures.

The Regional Council’s Reef Ecology Programme has been running since 2008. Several reefs around Hawke’s Bay are used as long term indicators for this project – Kairakau - Central Hawke’s Bay; Hardinge Road - Napier; and Te Mahia - Mahia Peninsula.

Issues:  Human access - motor vehicles, trampling by people or stock animals, increased population, and housing at beach areas developments.

Land and water - Erosion of cliffs and steep hillsides, or flooding of nearby rivers can fill these areas with sediment and kill young species, destroy habitats and food change.  The example is the flood damage to the south coast due to the storm of April 2011,  Good land management and soil conservation practices by landowners have benefits for coastal areas far beyond the farm gate.

Opoutama BeachSandy beaches are where we like to relax, swim and surf, but they are also a valuable and undervalued part of our coastal ecosystem.

These beaches are an extensive part of the Hawke’s Bay coastline (48%).  As well as protecting nearby land (also see Dunes) our beaches support a vast range of animal and plant life by cycling nutrients, filtering large volumes of seawater and provide crucial nesting and foraging habitats.

The Regional Council’s sandy beach monitoring programme has been designed to provide information on the types and numbers of species present at these beaches and we monitor the condition of the ecology. Each community is influenced by the environment at their beach.  For example, the ecological community at Opoutama Beach is dominated by marine worms; large amounts of organic material washes ashore at this beach and marine worms are particularly good at breaking this down.  At the southern beaches you will find more crabs and shellfish as there is less organic material.

Issues:  Sandy beach ecosystems are vulnerable to the effects of human activities on the beach (vehicles, over-fishing or harvesting), nearby activities (housing developments, sewage tank leaks) and activity further inland (soil erosion, flooding).  Many of the region’s coastal margins are being developed and therefore putting more pressure on parts of our beaches. 

Shingle beaches are actually rare in the world, and Hawke’s Bay has a long shingle beach stretching between Clifton and Whirinaki. Shingle comes from the mountains via Hawke’s Bay’s long braided rivers. Shingle is very mobile; therefore estuary areas and river mouths change shape frequently. In certain sea conditions some river mouths will close up completely until a high freshwater flow (often assisted by the Regional Council diggers when safe) can push through a new opening.

While the Regional Council doesn't monitor the ecology of the shingle beaches, we are aware of the species that use these special and mobile areas.  Species of gulls, terns and petrels (some of them threatened species) use the shingle banks for resting while others build nests in the gravel.  Some seabirds also nest inland in the river gravels. There are rare native plant species that find a foothold here.

Issues:  Human activity, predators and roaming dogs impacting on nesting birds, or tired migrating birds stopping to rest.  Vehicles are banned from the shingle bank between Waitangi and Tukituki Estuaries for this reason. People should take care walking along this bank and not disturb any birds.

Rangaiika Dune SystemExtensive dune systems are along the Hawke’s Bay coastline. The largest of these are at Porangahau, Ocean Beach, Rangaiika, Pukenui and Onenui (southeast Mahia Peninsula).  In their untouched state, dunes would have been prime breeding grounds for seabirds and a range of native reptiles and invertebrates. There were once diverse shrublands, native sand binders, Spinifex, pingao and sand tussock providing habitats and these are now sparse.  Dunes also provide protection from the sea for the land (and settlements) behind them.

Many of the dune systems along our coast are under severe threat. However only one of these dune systems has protective status - a small system between Cape Kidnappers and Black Reef.

Issues:All of the dunes systems have been modified to some extent by farming, weed invasion and animal pests (rabbits especially).  Dunes have also been modified by coastal settlement and development, a pressure which is accelerating.   Some efforts have been made by coast care groups in communities to fence off dunes to stop people and vehicles trampling them.  Boardwalks and steps provide beach access. However storms can destroy these structures.

Estuaries are distinctive and dynamic habitats.  They sit in the boundary between land and sea and have a mix of fresh and salt waters. 

Maugawhio Lagoon EstuariesEstuaries have many valuable functions:

  • Bird roosting, feeding and breeding
  • Fish spawning and nursery
  • Habitat for shellfish, snails, worms
  • Habitat for specialist plants
  • Nutrient and sediment filter or sink
  • Buffer the effects of the sea on the land and, vice versa, buffer the effects of land-based activities on the sea
  • Recreation for people.

The Regional Council science staff monitor and research estuaries which involves mapping of the vegetation around the estuary (including weeds and rare species), monitoring what birdlife, fish, aquatic invertebrates or any other pest species that are there. Annual State of the Environment monitoring is currently conducted in the Wairoa,  Porangahau and Ahuriri estuaries.

Issues: People - Our expanding population and more urban development near the coast means that our estuaries and their fringing habitats are under constant threat.  Care must be taken when managing recreation in these areas to keep people and dogs away from sensitive habitats.

Pollution and Pest Organisms - Estuaries and harbours are particularly prone to pollution from stormwater (which is not treated and contains pollutants), sewage spills, and industrial spills. Harbours are at risk of pollution and introduction of new organisms through oil spills and discharges of effluents and ballast water from ships.

Ahuriri Estuary has been a particular focus in Hawke’s Bay as it is the only estuary within city boundaries. While this gives local people good access to the lagoons, ponds, tidal flats, salt marsh islets, and channels which make up the 275 ha (high tide) estuary, it also adds pressures. This estuary supports a rich diversity of bird and fish species and is a DOC Wildlife Refuge. A cycle route passes along stopbanks and trails within the estuary area. The estuary receives stormwater runoff from the majority of the Napier-Taradale urban and industrial areas, plus runoff from pasture lands near the upper estuary. Oil spills can occur at the Inner Harbour, which is the mooring for commercial and recreational boats, and the entrance to the harbour is periodically dredged.

Ahuriri Estuary was one of the six environmental hot spots identified by the Council in its annual plan 2017-18.


Te Angiangi Marine Reserve  is along the coast between Aramoana and Blackhead.  It represents a typical stretch of the central Hawke’s Bay coastline, approximately 30 km east of Waipukurau and Waipawa. The reserve is well used by the local community, and the inter-tidal reef platform is ideal for school ‘rocky shore’ studies. There are camping grounds at both ends of the reserve, and plentiful bach (holiday) accommodation.

Environmental Telarc


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