Gisborne council tight-lipped after meeting over safety at slash-covered beach after death of child

On Thursday morning Waikanae beach, the scene of a fatal incident involving a boy on Wednesday night, was covered in slash.

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On Thursday morning Waikanae beach, the scene of a fatal incident involving a boy on Wednesday night, was covered in slash.

The Gisborne District Council is being tight-lipped about plans to protect the public from debris-strewn beaches after the death of a boy on Wednesday.

A 12-year-old boy died following an incident on Gisborne’s Waikanae Beach on Wednesday evening, which witnesses said involved an injury from a floating log which was part of wood slash covering the beach in the wake of Cyclone Hale, local media reported.

The council met on Thursday morning but would not say later that day what it planned to do about the beach, saying they would issue a press release sometime on Friday.

Before the meeting, Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz said the council was investigating where the huge amount of debris on the beach had originated from.

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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.”

A witness reported seeing the boy fall off a floating log and was then hit by it while standing in the shallows, The Gisborne Herald reported on Thursday.

The police described the incident as a “tragic accident”.

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Stoltz said she was “devastated” by the news.

“On behalf of our community, we send our condolences, our love and support to this family dealing this morning with this unimaginable loss,” she said.

Police said the child’s death would be referred to the coroner.

A council spokeswoman said it was not within the council’s power to close the beach.

Log debris and slash along Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, on Thursday morning.  Surfers can still be seen along the beach with their boards.

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Log debris and slash along Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, on Thursday morning. Surfers can still be seen along the beach with their boards.

A karakia took place at the beach on Wednesday night. .

Slash has proved to be a problem on the beach recently.

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Slash has proved to be a problem on the beach recently.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand spokesperson Rob McGregor said the beach was officially closed due to water quality at the time of the incident, and he understood lifeguards were not on duty.

A Gisborne local, who wished to remain anonymous, said the incident took place outside the Waikanae Beach Surf Life Saving Club.

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The Tūranganui River was high in Gisborne on Wednesday morning after Cyclone Hale drenched the region overnight.

The person said slash had proven to be a problem on the beach recently, with children seen playing in and around debris.

“When the tide was high and the surf was rough, which they were last night, slash would often be spread throughout the shore and surf.”

Clearing slash debris from beaches was a regular occurrence across Tairāwhiti, with storms washing forestry and wooded debris through the rivers into the sea.

Clean up following Cyclone Hale began on Monday on Waikanae and Midway beaches with support from the forestry industry, according to a post on the council’s Facebook page.

Log debris and slash along Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, on Thursday morning.

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Log debris and slash along Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, on Thursday morning.

Gisborne District Council spent hundreds of thousands of dollars removing the slash in the lead up to summer and often following large storm events.

In 2021, it spent $344,000 on the clean-up across the city and Uawa/Tolaga Bay beaches, clearing about 275 cubic meters of woody debris in October.

Tairāwhiti Gisborne locals have launched a petitionwith more than 8500 signatures so far, seeking a raft of changes to the way forestry is carried out in the region, so destruction caused by storms like Cyclone Hale can be avoided.

The petitionorganized by Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti, a group including farmers and horticulturalists, Māori landowners and conservation workers, called on local and central government to do more to reduce erosion sediment and forestry slash from entering waterways.

A spokesperson for the Eastland Wood Council said they were saddened to hear the tragic news about the death of the child.

“We are sending our love to the family and our thoughts and sympathies are with them. We stand ready to be part of any inquiries and will work with authorities to support whānau where possible.”

They encouraged people to stay clear while they undertook clean-up work this week.

“The industry is continuing to contribute resources to the clean-up, such as machinery and personnel, to assist with efforts,” the spokesperson said.

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