The initiative not only offers a platform for local businesses to actively contribute to the region's ecological well-being, but also extends support to the region's farmers by supplying and planting native plants at no cost.
Zak Shaw, Development West Coast's Nature Project Lead, says: “The special thing about the Ōkārito Plant Project is that the plants are being offered to landowners at no cost... It’s the start of a great partnership ... between the farming community, the Okarito Nursery and tourism businesses."
Paula Sheridan from Ōkārito Boat Eco Tours, and co-chairperson of the Ōkārito Nursery, said: "We had tried working through the native plants trust to find revenues for local farmers... But we realised how difficult that was for them."
Sam Speight from NZ Landcare Trust says farmers are often time poor, “although they might have all the best intentions … they might be a little hamstrung with the hours in the day.”
“So having the Ōkārito Plant project available to them to come and plant them, maintain them as well, until they're self-sufficient. That's a great community asset for these farmers to lean on.”
The initiative's approach is hands-on, with tourism businesses not just funding the project but also participating in the planting days. This kinesthetic involvement is a crucial aspect of the project, as Zak Shaw states, "They want to be directly involved in that. They want to be hands-on."
Julie Wolbers of Ribbonwood Retreat in Franz Josef said, “When this idea was suggested by Paula it hit the right spot for us. We felt we wanted to be involved. We want to be part of this, and we wanted to give our money to something that we were connected with and that fitted the bill so well. We feel a great deal of connection with this project.”
The project launch last month marked a significant step forward for the Okarito Plant Project, showcasing the collaboration between different sectors of the community, affirming their shared responsibility and mutual benefit that comes from protecting and enhancing the environment.
Janelle Shaw from Franz Josef Glacier Guides remarked, "What's been really exciting for us as a business is that we've been able to get involved in this project that we would not have been able to do on our own."
“And I think one of the real joys of the project is the collaboration that comes from different businesses, different industry working together … restoring these waterways and beautiful places, beautiful scenery that we have here on the West Coast,” said Janelle.
As the Ōkārito Plant Project continues to grow, its vision of a revitalised and biodiverse landscape becomes increasingly tangible. The initiative not only brings together the expertise and resources of local businesses but also fosters a sense of ownership and pride within the community, a sentiment echoed by Paula Sheridan: "It's kind of a big thing too … the whole concept is really around every time we go out, we should be giving back."
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