29 Sep 2023

Sinkhole sewage spill scuttles Saturday and Sunday sea sports

8:22 pm on 29 September 2023
Sinkhole in Parnell

The view from above the Parnell sinkhole, which was caused by a blocked sewerage pipe. Photo: Watercare

The fallout from Auckland's giant sinkhole continues, forcing cancellations and relocations for weekend events and school holiday programmes across the Waitematā Harbour.

The emergence of the sinkhole in the suburb of Parnell, due to a blocked sewerage pipe, meant hundreds of litres of sewage were continuing to flow into the sea after persistent wet weather.

The sinkhole, discovered on Monday, is the size of a tennis court and 13 metres deep. It is the third sinkhole to appear in the city in recent months.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has imposed a rāhui across the Waitematā, and Watercare has deemed all inner-city beaches unsafe to swim.

Auckland health authorities warned Aucklanders the sewage contained pathogens that could cause nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

And even after the water clears up, shellfish should not be collected or consumed for another 28 days.

Pollution stymies plans for regatta, holiday programme and triathlon

The Royal Akarana Yacht Club has been forced to run its school holiday sailing programme from dry land.

Manager Nicky Tuck said it had left about 100 young people gutted.

"We can't put any of them out on the water, we're coming up with as many on-land activities as we can, but that does definitely run short quite soon."

The club would have been hosting the first day of the NZ Youth Sailing Championship Trials on Friday, which Tuck said had been highly anticipated.

"We were just so excited to be having that regatta. It's the first regatta that we've been able to do in a long time that takes up that whole landing space," Tuck said.

"There are a lot of very disappointed young people walking around today, trying to figure out what happens next."

Organiser Sam Mackay said the location of the 80-strong competition would be moved, with the four-day event shortened to two. But he said the new plans would not replace what they would have had.

"Obviously [we're] disappointed not to be able to host it out at Akarana, it was a month in the planning and it would have been great to do the event on the harbour.

"Everyone's pretty happy just to get a regatta in over Sunday-Monday."

Watercare said the repair of the sinkhole pipe was likely to take at least 10 days and would be the largest wastewater bypass ever undertaken in New Zealand.

In the meantime, it was deemed Point Chevalier, St Heliers, Kohimarama, Devonport, Torpedo Bay, Cheltenham, Bayswater and Judges Bay beaches were all unsafe to swim.

And that all meant the cancellation of what was supposed to be a special event on Saturday, hosted by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei; the Iron Māori triathlon.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chair Ngarimu Blair had been looking forward to it, and was disappointed.

"We have a sense of whakamā - or embarrassment - as well, with the pollution. We have had to close the harbour and that also means we cannot host the very famous Iron Māori, which is a Māori health initiative to get Māori moving through a triathlon.

"For many of us, including myself, this [was] gonna be the first I'd ever actually swum in Okahu Bay for the triathlon, having grown up with the stories of pollution and sickness from my parents and grandparents.

"It looks like I won't be swimming in the bay any time soon."

Scott Macindoe, spokesperson for LegaSea - an environmental group set up by the Sport Fishing Council - said fishing charters would be forced to travel to farther waters for their daily catch.

He said it was the right decision for the iwi to impose a rāhui and the best thing for sealife in the harbour.

"We've wiped out most of the organisms that live between the high tide and the low tide. So this rāhui - good. For health purposes - sweet as, for management purposes - well overdue."

He said the public should support the decision and respect the rāhui.

"There's leadership here, and we don't want to undervalue that leadership. Ka pai Ngāti Whātua, you're taking action where the rest of us look away."

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