Rising sea levels could significantly impact between $2–14 billion of our water services, roading and other infrastructure. While the focus on adapting these assets is vital, WSP’s Carole Smith urges consideration for ecological and heritage sites.

Extreme weather events highlight the vulnerability of major infrastructure assets, as well as private property. These events are also having a major impact on our coastal environments and wildlife in ways that may permanently change the shape of these areas.

Protection of the real estate of our most vulnerable ecological and heritage sites doesn’t feature prominently in conversations around sea level rise. Are we doing enough to protect and enhance the long-term viability of these sites?

Around 10% of our protected heritages sites are with within 100m of the coast. Many of our most critically threatened species, such as the Southern NZ dotterel, nest in scapes in the sand which are being irreparably damaged by rising sea levels and storm surges. 

Granted, there is good work underway on this issue. The Ministry for the Environment’s  Recommendations for Adapting to Climate Change identifies the urgent need for coherent, joined-up thinking and leadership around climate change adaptation. 

However, I’m concerned that these changes need to happen with urgency. The Threatened Species Recovery Plan doesn’t specifically identify sea level rise as a threat for the dotterel. As such the advocacy, financial and land use planning needed to support necessary adaptation may not be occurring.
There are excellent examples of adaptation such as the fairy tern habitat protection work completed by NZDF and DoC to raise their nesting sites and protect them from king tides and storm surges, but it’s obvious that we need a clear plan for prioritising and protecting our ecological assets, or a  comprehensive tool box for adaptation. 

The reality is that land use planning measures and enhancement of habitat can take a significant amount of time to progress particularly because it will require significant funding inputs.



Carole Smith is Director Environment at WSP. With over 20 years’ experience in environmental consulting in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, she is passionate about making a difference for the environment and for our communities.

The views expressed are the opinions of subject matter experts and do not necessarily reflect those of WSP.

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