Mokihinui river dam plan poses ecological disaster - WWF

Posted on
07 April 2010
WWF-New Zealand has criticised the decision to approve the proposed damming of the Mokihinui River for hydro-electricity generation, warning that the building of a dam and flooding of the adjacent rainforest valley will have devastating consequences for protected and endangered native wildlife.

Conservationists have identified the Mokihinui River on the West Coast of the South Island as one of New Zealand's most valuable wild, free flowing rivers.

WWF community programme manager Marc Slade said: “The Mokihinui River is a biodiversity hotspot and one of few remaining unpolluted and undammed habitats for wildlife, so plans to dam it amount to ecological vandalism. We urge the Government to overturn this decision and instead act in the interests of all Kiwis by protecting one of our last great free flowing rivers”

Twelve species of native fish live in the waters, including an important population of chronically endangered and endemic long-finned eel, which will be disastrously affected by the planned construction of an 85m high dam and the drowning of 330 hectares of native rainforest creating a 14 kilometre long artificial lake. The dam will prevent the eels and other native fish migrating to sea to breed and the young eels (elvers) returning to the upper reaches of the river where they live and mature.

The west coast rainforest of the Mokihinui Valley is also important habitat for a number of other species including kiwi, blue duck, New Zealand robin and giant land snails – all unique to New Zealand. 

WWF-New Zealand is calling on the Government to put a stop to this scheme under their commitment to reduce biodiversity loss through the Convention on Biological Diversity. New Zealand signed up to the convention in 1992 and it was put into practice by the NZ Biodiversity strategy in 2000. 

Marc Slade said: “WWF supports renewable energy generation. However it is possible to move to a clean, low carbon economy without degrading important ecosystems. In this instance, hydro-electricity for the West Coast is being developed by the Stockton Plateau Hydro Power Scheme proposal, making the proposed Mokihinui scheme unnecessary.”

An international report – “Free-Flowing Rivers” - produced by WWF shows that free flowing rivers are themselves increasingly rare and threatened, and only 1/3 of the world’s major rivers remain unmodified. Free flowing rivers have important hydrological and ecological functions, such as maintaining native fish populations and water purification, which are hard to quantify and are greatly reduced or lost by damming the river. The report shows that free-flowing rivers have substantial conservation, as well as economic values.


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