Every Monday at 5.30pm, members of the Rotary Club of Ahuriri, NZ, meet just across the road from Napier’s Ahuriri Estuary for their club meeting. But it is not just Rotarians who migrate for company and a meal: the Ahuriri Estuary is also home to some of the world’s most extraordinary birds.
Bar-tailed godwits annually fly thousands of kilometres from their breeding grounds in Alaska, escaping the harsh northern winter to rest, nourish and replenish at this estuary. It was this close proximity to the estuary, which is teeming with both animal and plant life, that inspired the club, led by then president-elect PDG Mike Smith, to set up an environmental committee, well before ‘Supporting the Environment’ became Rotary’s seventh Area of Focus.
The bar-tailed godwits have become a little like club mascots. Their annual, hazardous migration takes them from Alaska non-stop to New Zealand for the Southern summer; New Zealand non-stop to the Yellow Sea for a stop-over, before finally returning to their breeding grounds in Alaska. The club would love to team up with Rotary clubs in the Pacific, Australia, South Korea and Alaska, and look towards collectively helping protect migratory wading birds.
“We wanted to take members on a tour of the estuary,” said co-leader of the committee, Jake Brookie, who is an environmental educator. “And from there we discovered lots of other projects the club can be involved with.”
Projects such as adopting a section of coastline in Napier to survey for litter, with the data collected being uploaded to New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines and shared with the government departments responsible for protecting the environment.
“As we are aware, our oceans are in crisis, not only with millions of tonnes of plastics and other debris being dumped in them every year, but also through over-fishing and climate change,” said committee co-leader Lynne Anderson. “There is so much to be done.”
Jake and Lynne launched the first litter survey in October and will involve members from neighbouring clubs as well.
“We are a great family of five Rotary clubs working for the betterment of our community, together,” PDG Mike Smith said.
The club has also recently become involved with the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) – recognising a clean and healthy sustainable environment is vital for the success of all Rotary’s Areas of Focus.
With Rotary International now ‘Supporting the Environment’ as its seventh Area of Focus, Jake and Lynne believe Rotarians and clubs have a huge amount to offer when it comes to helping the planet, by restoring rivers, cleaning beaches, planting natives, involving youth, and raising awareness through guest speakers and field trips.
“If people are aware of the beauty and importance of our natural environments, they are more likely to want to protect them,” Jake said. “If every Rotarian makes a change, that’s 1.2 million people – imagine the difference if each Rotarian inspires 10 others!”