Gisborne beach tragedy: Mayor heartbroken after child dies after sea injury, council to investigate wood debris

January 26 2023 | Logs continue to collect on Waikanae beach, Gisborne. Video / Chanelle Louise Rogers

A devastated Gisborne mayor says she will investigate if woody debris in the ocean played a part in the death of a boy at Waikanae Beach.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said she was “absolutely devastated” by the news.

“I feel heartbroken for this whānau and can’t begin to understand their unimaginable loss. On behalf of the community and as the Mayor I send our sincere condolences to the whānau of this little boy. I will reach out to offer any support to the whānau that I can give.

“We understand the death has been referred to the coroner and we will cooperate fully with the coroner’s investigation.

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“We will also continue our own investigation into the origin of the woody debris and support calls for an independent inquiry into future land use in Tairāwhiti. The state of our waterways is unacceptable.”

Ocean Rhythms Surf Camp claims the child passed away due to being hit by a slash in the water at Waikanae Beach last night.

Members of the public rushed to help pull the injured Wellington boy from the water, providing first aid in a desperate but unsuccessful fight to save his life at a Gisborne beach.

The injured boy was taken to hospital in critical condition last night but later died, police said.

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Surf lifesaving Eastern Region manager Chaz Gibbons-Campbell described yesterday’s incident at Gisborne’s Waikanae Beach as “tragic”.

“A boy was pulled out of the water by members of the public who provided first aid,” Gibbons-Campbell said.

“Surf lifesaving was not asked for a response, but an off-duty lifeguard who was at the scene went to the club and got equipment to help.

“The person was later transported to the hospital in a St. John ambulance which arrived on the scene pretty quickly.”

Members of the public pulled an injured boy from the water at Waikanae Beach, Gisborne yesterday.  Photo / Chanelle Louise Rogers
Members of the public pulled an injured boy from the water at Waikanae Beach, Gisborne yesterday. Photo / Chanelle Louise Rogers

Waikanae surf life-saving club manager Clara Wilson said it was “an incredibly sad event” and that the club sends its deepest condolences to the boy’s whānau.

Surf Lifesaving New Zealand spokesman Rob McGregor said from the inquiries so far he understood an incident happened at the beach where the response was not led by lifeguards.

“Tragically a boy lost his life. It is my understanding that he was from Wellington. Police are the lead agency in matters relating to this incident.”

McGregor said further inquiries should be directed to the police.

Police confirmed the death of a child saying initial indications were that the youngster suffered an injury on the beach and then died a short time later.

“Our thoughts are with their family,” a police statement said.

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The exact age of the child and the circumstances surrounding the incident that led to the death are not yet known.

Police said the death has been referred to the Coroner.

A St John spokesperson said they received a call at 7.13pm about an incident on Waikanae Beach, Gisborne.

“We responded with two ambulances and one rapid response vehicle. One patient was taken to Gisborne Hospital via ambulance in critical condition.”

An Awapuni resident who lives next to Waikanae beach said she went there last night but did not see anything.

“I did hear the three police cars fly past then the ambulance.”

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She said the beaches were in a terrible state.

Massive amounts of forestry debris had piled up on beaches, waterways, farms and homes on the East Coast after the latest storm.

More than 8500 people had signed a residents’ petition calling on local government and the Beehive to act on what is being called an “ecological disaster”.

“We are sick of seeing the carnage created by forestry slash [waste debris] in our awa and along the coast…after years of expensive litigation, it seems Gisborne District Council is still unable to set rules that protect the environment and it is impacting on our ability to live in our own lands,” said a spokesperson for petition organizing group Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti.

The group, which includes farmers, horticulturalists, Māori landowners and conservation workers presented the petition to the district council at the meeting today.

Four days ago Gisborne District Council had advised residents on social media that the clean-up of Waikanae and Midway beaches was scheduled to start on Monday.

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“The forestry industry will be cleared between 5am – 9pm depending on tides and conditions. Please keep clear of the equipment while the machinery is operating.”

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