The Case of the Missing Skinks

Posted 23rd July 2009


Whangamata burning 2005, initiated by a marina society member, in an area set aside for salt marsh mitigation. moko skink first discovered. No charges laid

Oligosoma moco

burning survivor

July 2008 deliberate weed spraying of Moko habitat by marina society contractor,Bruce Connell  again, no charges laid

I am writing this as a summary of events at Whangamata, in particular the illegal and deliberate weed spraying of the Oligosoma moco skink habitat which I initially complained to police about, and from which, investigations were passed onto the DoC. area manager, Mr Gaukrodger.  As far as I am aware, the investigation was then handed onto Environment Waikato in July and August 2008, the legal ramifications of which, lay with that Authority.

E.W. Councillor Simon Friar, is an active Whangamata Marina Society member, and instigated the illegal clearance of mangroves, which first exposed this threatened species in and around this area in late 2005

It is the intention of this document to detail the involvement of those that have escaped prosecution for deliberately exterminating this habitat. I wish to assert that it is also highly unlikely that a council would take steps to prosecute those involved, especially when those implicated are pivotal in the policy process itself. A clear conflict of interest for the consenting authorities, Environment Waikato and Thames Coromandel District Council.

Most of the documents referred to here are downloadable (pdf) links, more will be added over time.

The colony of Oligosoma moco skink were a major of only two, known significant mainland habitats, which has now been wiped out to make way for the marina of 205 berths (new non notified consent, now 210 berths) at Whangamata. These skink were an Absolutely Protected Species, with a sparse classification.

Hauraki Maori Trust representatives along with the President of the Surfbreak Protection Society were first informed of the Moko skinks presence on the 12th of May 2008. The Marina Society’s agents had gone on site several (or more) days earlier confiscating the skink without consulting the General Public or Hauraki Maori. This particular species is considered sacred to Maori, hence the name, Moko, In particular, the full Maori name is Mokomoko they are considered ancestral, sacred.

Dr Keith Corbett M.B.E. is a herpetologist who has been administering one of the other two significant mainland habitats of Moko skink at an Auckland Naval base.

Dr Corbett had been alerted to, and assessed the Whangamata habitat in September 2007. He immediately advised Thames Coromandel District Council by email, submission, and telephone, (repeatedly ) regarding the impacts of target spraying the pampas and kikuyu grass, which was preferred habitat for the moko skink. Dr Corbett’s concerns were either ignored, avoided, or both. He alerted TCDC to the ramifications under the Wildlife Act 1953, all to no avail.

Dr Corbett’s concerns are illustrated by this excerpt from his May 2008 email to the TCDC CEO :  I am writing to you as Chief Executive to protest at the administrative behaviour of your staff. I say behaviour since I cannot judge whether this is due to incompetence, obstruction, lack of co-operation, or a mixture of some or all ? Dr Corbett received a response from TCDC stating that his concerns had been forwarded on to Sam Marshall, Area Manager for Whangamata.

Dr Corbett’s original email (September 2007) which outlined the skink habitat had been Cc to Mr Guakrodger of the DoC Hauraki office as well as several others from that department, Mr Gaukrodger as well as Sam Marshall  and Bruce Connell (the Contractor identified as blanket weed spraying the habitat ) were also on an email loop concerning the Mitigation and Enhancement Plan, which I will refer to later on this page.

With good intentions, Dr Corbett’s emails to TCDC outlined the skinks preferred habitat in the area, Pampas and Kikuyu grass, and strongly suggested the planting of native plants before anymore targeted spraying and destruction of skink habitat occurs. Dr Corbett had also phoned TCDC on numerous occasions since September 2007 requesting they stop spraying.

After hearing of the moko skink habitat I travelled to Whangamata, 1st of June 2008 Queens Birthday weekend, and photographed the habitat. Noting some weed spraying.

I again travelled to Whangamata one month later in the first week of July 2008, when Hauraki Maori occupied the public land to be confiscated, protesting amongst other things further, and major non notified consents pertaining to the marina construction, and a lack of consultation over the removal of the Moko skink. Taking more photos of the habitat revealed that a blanket, targeted illegal, and deliberate, weed spraying of the Moko skink habitat had taken place.

From the investigations initiated by my concerns raised with DoC and MfE, I received a letter from the previous Minister of the Environment Trevor Mallard, dated 03 09 08 stating there appears to be some confusion as to what was sprayed where and by whom. And I should take legal advice if I wanted to take this further, which I did. The Marina Society moved on site and begun construction on the 01 09 08.

It was only by going to court that I found out who did the spraying, from an affidavit written by  an Environment Waikato investigating officer, The sprayer was a marina society contractor, who is also a preferred contractor of TCDC, Mr Bruce Connell, who owns the firm Eastern Pipe layers Ltd

The legal advice I received was that while illegal activities are likely to be taking place under the Wildlife Act 1953, The Marina Society did not hold consents to destroy an absolutely protected species habitat. If I had had more financial resources, I would have taken them on the Wildlife Act as well, though it should not be up to a member of the public to uphold public law

At the time of WMS moving onsite in September 2008, Hauraki Maori also launched several appeals. As I understand, some are still proceeding through legal process, but are somewhat drawn out (intentionally?) meanwhile destruction of the estuary continues.

So I took the Marina developers to the Environment Court under section 12(1)(e) of the RMA which states:

12 Restrictions on use of coastal marine area

  • (1) No person may, in the coastal marine area,-

(e)  Destroy, damage, or disturb any foreshore or seabed (other than for the purpose of lawfully harvesting any plant or animal) in a manner that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on plants or animals or their habitat

unless expressly allowed by a rule in a regional coastal plan and in any relevant proposed regional coastal plan or a resource consent.

with strong support from Dr Corbett (affidavit in parts one two and three due to file size ) and the Ngati Whanaunga Iwi environmental unit, (for appendixies click here) an Iwi under the umbrella of The Hauraki Maori Trust Board, My case was heard by Judge Bollard, who coincidently oversaw the marina variations to the E.W. regional plan and the Marina consents, both of those judgements were released on the same day, and in March 2006 the RT Hon Chris Carter then deemed fit to veto. Needless to say I lost my case. Now according to the late Judge Bollard, you do not need a consent to destroy an absolutely protected species habitat, nor even correctly filled out wildlife permits, in New Zealand.

You may read Judge Bollards Decision here Judge Bollard tied up his decision biased once again in favour of the Marina Society and Bioresearches Ltd.

Bollard entertained far more than necessary the concerns about my ability to pay for damages (even though he duly noted it was a case for public interest early on in the proceedings)  He allowed the discrediting of Dr Corbett M.B.E and showered accolades on BioResearches  Chris Wedding.  He entertained WRC assertions that the habitat did not extend below mean High Water Springs, yet the skink are known for their preference for feeding on sand hoppers, and other coastal invertebrates.

Bollard also attempted to discount my support from the Ngati Whanaunga Environment unit, which protested this, and Bollard was forced to amend his judgement accordingly.

With regard to the blanket weed spraying, I have an Affidavit from my court case from Roger Boese, of Boese land care, the TCDC contractor who did the original target spot spraying of pampas grass that raised Dr Corbett’s concerns with TCDC, who states :

“As a registered chemical applicator I would never spray vegetation in the quantities or concentrations shown in the photographs I have seen. The photographs indicate an excessive use of spraying chemicals which has caused the die back of all vegetation in the area. Boese only ever uses the minimum amount of spray chemical as that technique is both the most economical, and beneficial to the environment.”

It is my assertion, and I have had expert advice to affirm this, that Meturon (or equivalent ) or its active ingredient metsulfuron-methyl must have been applied in inappropriate quantities.

In my court case an affidavit was supplied by Thames Coromandel District Council parks and reserves manager Derek Thompson who states:

“I have reviewed the photos numbered 1 – 7 and annexed to the affidavit Michael Richard Gunson dated 10th October 2008. I note there are some extensive areas of dead brown vegetation contained in those photos. The Council did not carry out or authorise the spraying which must of killed the vegetation in those photos. This spraying must have been carried out by another party which was inexperienced in spray application.”

Aside from this precarious judgement, what is most disturbing to me is that a serious illegal activity has taken place, and those responsible are being protected from prosecution. That is why  in May 2009 I initiated a LGOIMA into not just the investigation of the weed spraying, but also the illegal clearance of Mangroves in 2005, When the Moko skink were first notified to EW and DoC. ,again no prosecutions were laid.

I recieved my response from EW in two parts the second part of My LGOIMA regarded the mangrove clearance, which is over 600 pages long, and mostly consisting of emails between that council and Marina society member, now currently EW councillor, and front man for the illegal mangrove burning, Simon Friar.

On page 65 of my LGOIMA when Luala Platts (EW investigating officer) interviews Derek Thompson of TCDC by phone, He states that:

“He thought Metaron* may have been used.”

Environment Waikato have held back much of what I have asked for, but what has been given emphasises my concerns, in particular correspondence between the EW investigator Luala Platts, and John Knappet from the Whangamata Marina Society. This quote from page 60:

“The area proposed to be planted was covered with Kikuyu grass. In order to meet the requirement to have the proposed planting areas prepared for planting in season, the intended contractor used a boom sprayer to spray the area of kikuyu grass with Glysophate 360[sic*] diluted at 1:10 with a boom spray.”

It is obvious that either Knappet, the project manager, or Connell a major contractor, is purposefully misleading the investigator.

No mention of meturon* is given, even regular spraying, like that done by  Streetsmart Ltd, admit to a small dilution of with several grams of meturon (or equivalent like Escort) in there somewhat passive spraying of the area.

This is poor investigation technique on behalf of Environment Waikato, using secondary sourcing rather than primary, Connell should have been questioned directly.

*throughout the investigation incorrect spelling of brand names have been written, metaron should be meturon and Glysophate 360 should read Glyphosate 360. I get the impression that the investigator is in fact unfamiliar with Agri-chemicals.  Luala Platts also wrote an affidavit on behalf of Environment Waikato which outlines her investigation.

Pampas sprayed in wetland pre-construction.    Pampas sprayed along Causeway.    Why spray in the wetland it is due for infilling?


To summarise the spraying contractors involved:

Streetsmart Ltd

Were carrying out legitimate and safe spraying practises along the causeway, they just happened to turn up during the Maori occupation and were naturally assumed responsible.

Boese Landcare

Were apparently target – spot spraying legitimately as contracted by TCDC, though skink habitat was being destroyed. Perhaps Boese could have  paid more attention to existing fauna ? Over the course of the preceding year, By targeting these plants, Oligosoma moco skink habitat was been effectively exterminated. Dr Keith Corbett M.B.E had being demanding that the council cease this target spraying for over a year, but TCDC failed to act (more by design, than accident) on his advice (Wildlife Act 1953 breach)

Bruce Connell (Eastern Pipe Layers ltd)

Were NOT spraying legitimately, had no apparent authorisation, dangerous spraying practices,( re: photo of myself and two young children unwittingly walking through the area around time of spraying) Connell has major contracts with Marina society and is a preferred contractor to  TCDC, one such contract involves connection of new Waste water system for marina site and marina developers subdivision, total cost to rate payers of $3,000,000 . In my view, and many other people of Whangamata, spraying was done in order to exterminate as many skink as possible before Maori and general public were made aware of the skinks presence.

Bruce Connell a Whangamata local, and preferred TCDC contractor, owns most of the machinery on the marina site, his family own the house that is the registered offices of the marina society, and is being protected from prosecution by councils, not only in this case but that of the Beverly hills’ subdivision  (Fernleigh Glade in Whangamata where his earthworks have endangered other properties.

Bruce Connell, as well as the TCDC Whangamata Area Manager, Sam Marshall, was on a email mailing list regarding the mitigation and enhancement plan along with several members of the Marina society committee EW, and DoC staff to the Hauraki Maori Trust Board.  Marshall was alerted to the skinks by Keith Corbett at least by the 19th of May 2008, just before the illegal spraying took place.

During my Court case Mr Ross Stewart, a marina society committee member, surveyor for the Society, and berth holder submitted an affidavit and represented the marina society.

Mr Stewart states :

“The Society first became aware of the Moko Skinks on the marina site in March 2008

Mr Stewart uses as an exhibit a letter (exhibit 11) which shows WRC acceptance of the societies Fauna Management Plan.  The date and how the marina society alerted the two Councils to the existence of indigenous coastal reptiles, and the Councils responses, are not a part of Mr Stewart’s evidence.

Mr Kelly of the marina society, in the President’s report to the societies AGM 14 June 2008 states,

“In February this year someone discovered a population of lizards known as “moko skinks” on the marina site”

During the Moko skink court case Mr Wedding, on behalf of the Bioresearches Group working for the marina society submits exhibit 2; a Mitigation and Enhancement Plan February 2007.This document was sent out for consultation with Hauraki Maori, a fact that is mentioned in judge Bollards decision. Bollard presumed Waikato Regional Council, Thames Coromandel District Council and DoC had copies as well.

Hauraki Maori receives a different copy of the Mitigation and Enhancement Plan, THAT DOES NOT contain the quote that Judge Bollard alludes to on Page 3 of the plan in his judgement, which states;

“2.2 Reclamation area reptiles

Reptiles in the Harbour edge habitat between the footbridge and Reserve at the end of Beach Road would be surveyed using artificial cover objects (ACOs), captured and relocated in consultation with the Department of Conservation.”

In his judgement, Bollard  notes the importance of the above remark from the plan, and makes the assumption that Hauraki Maori had seen it, and had opportunity to consult over it.

It is my belief that failings within TCDC and EW, as well as the Hauraki branch of DoC have led to the Whangamata marina Society to orchestrating this as a crisis management policy, in effect calling the tune.

Why did it take so long for Hauraki Maori and the wider public to become informed? The skink was first notified to DoC in November 2005, while the Environment Court was still deliberating the Marina consents.

To summarize:

The Marina society has misled the court about when the moko skink was first discovered at the marina site.

The Marina Society has misled regarding what was sprayed in the area to Environment Waikato, and EW followed up with poor investigation procedures.

Both TCDC and EW have councillors that are marina society members. The Society claims to be a non for profit incorporated community society, yet its members profit, or intend to profit from this activity. Both councils impartiality has been compromised by this group of developers.

I believe that Judge Bollard has once again erred in favour of the Whangamata marina society, and the Bioresearches Group Ltd. Judge Bollards preference to these organisations is what led the Rt Hon Chris Carter to exercising his right of veto over those consents, a judgement Chris Carter stands by to this day.

Simon Friar, and about twenty others identified were not prosecuted for the clearance of the mangroves in the salt marsh area. That salt marsh had been set aside in the Environment Court as mitigation for the wet land, that was fed by natural springs, and has now been turned into a car park and high density housing area as part of the marina development. Yet just recently, Environment Waikato deemed it fit to prosecute a farmer for (unrelated to this case) illegal vegetation clearance.

Construction of the marina is nearly complete.

With regard to the once abundant Kai moana beds of the Whangamata estuary, they are now smothered in even more mud and sedimentation, due to the construction.

With regard to the world famous surf break, and tourist draw card the Whangamata Bar, it is now degraded, not breaking cleanly, only in sections.

With regard to the natural boat ramp that could handle up to 18 trailers at one time, access is now heavily restricted and will continue to be.

With regard to enforcing the so called strict conditions laid down by the Environment Court and David Benson Pope? Well, around 14 new non notified (yet significant) consents have been granted, including the dumping of marine sediment on a flood plain upstream from the marina site and estuary, as well as fuel facilities at sea level, which were not taken into consideration at the original consent hearings with judge Bollard.

The previous Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment wrote a damming report into the mismanagement and degradation of this estuary, an estuary that recently had a rating of National Significance.

Of late, TCDC has endured numerous internal and some external fraud investigations, some of which (internal) focused on the relationships with this shadowy group of developers. Predictably the investigations go nowhere.

The information I have provided clearly points to breaches of the Wildlife Act yet those involved are apparently, yet again, immune from prosecution. To those close to the case it is obvious that members of the Hauraki DoC office have been neutralised, told to look the other way.

I believe the information I have provided sufficiently demonstrates the inappropriate relationship between the local councils, elements of Central Government, and this influential group of developers, to the detriment of the wider community, and warrants a full, transparent, Governmental inquiry into these relationships.


TCDC Exterminates Protected Species

posted August 2008

Maori Occupation at Whangamata

In 2005 while the Environment Court was still deliberating over consents for the Whangamata marina, an Ards card ( a wildlife notification card) was filed by a scientist to Environment Waikato to inform them of the Mokomoko (Oligosoma moco) skink discovery. The Court was never informed…

At a meeting with DOC in mid May 2008, it was revealed to Hauraki Maori and the Surfbreak Protection Society that Mokomoko skinks had been found at the Whangamata Salt Marsh.

Mokomoko skinks (Oligosoma moco) are rare; this is only one of two known surviving colonies on the mainland although several offshore colonies exist.

The Mokomoko is considered sacred by Maori, and is said to appear in a time of change.  The Marina Society’s latest press release state that despite this find, they will press on with the construction of a perimeter fence to enable vegetation clearance of the wetland on the first of August.

After hearing about the Discovery, Michelle and I traveled to Whangamata on Queens Birthday weekend to research the Wetland, and observe the mokomoko Skink.

sitting quietly on the banks we observed and heard numerous Mokomoko. They will take every opportunity to bask on rocks when the sun is out.

The area surrounding this Shrub was a hot spot for Mokomoko on Queens Birthday Weekend. We noted the weed spraying that had taken place with some concern.

Mokomoko Skink (Oligosoma moco)


Before After
shrub dead_shrub
flax2 dead_flax

Incredibly, while we were at the occupation site a contractor drove past spraying already dead ground! When we rang TCDC we were told that they were spraying verges, this photo clearly shows purposeful spraying off the verge, targeting the waterline and Mokomoko habitat. Opponents of the  Marina have long complained of the strategic relationship between the Council and Marina Society, the ability of the Marina society to have meetings without notes or minutes taken. was the spraying of the Mokomoko habitat agreed to at such a meeting?

spray sprayer

When Michelle and I returned to Wellington we began making phone calls, The contractor said they had been using roundup and freely admitted adding 4 grams of Meturon®, a spray with the same active ingredient as Escort®  (metsulfuron-methyl) which is what we expected since roundup has little if any effect even on grass at this time of year. this chemical is considered lethal to rainbow trout and ducks. It is an eco-toxin, corrosive on skin, an eye irritant, and causes respiratory problems. Cows should not graze for three days after spraying, and should not be used within 30 meters of a waterway, like next to the estuary, as in the above photo.

causeway_green causeway_brown
This Photo below was taken across the causeway on Queens Birthday weekend This photo below was taken on the weekend of the 3rd to 6th of July, again, wooded shrubs right on the waterline were affected!

This Photo below was taken across the causeway on Queens Birthday weekend

This photo below was taken on the weekend of the 3rd to 6th of July, again, wooded shrubs right on the waterline were affected!

It is my belief that Thames Coromandel District Council staff members and Whangamata Marina Society Members have colluded in spraying this habitat, I have also been shown emails from one the country’s leading herpetologists requesting that TCDC stop spraying the area since September 2007! under the wildlife Act company directors are liable from the day they are first notified of a breach. I have been busy this last week notifying the authorities, and will update as further detail becomes available. Killing of a Species that is considered absolutely protected carries heavy penalties.

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