Satellite images tell the story of Tolaga Bay

In ForestTECH, Issue15 by FIEA

The impact of forestry on the East Coast came to the fore last month as Tolaga Bay was deluged with offcuts. How did it come to this, asks Michael Smith.

Satellite images show how the disaster in the forests at Tolaga Bay on New Zealand’s was a long time in the making. The length of time and the extent of the damage rendered to the East Coast and its vulnerable communities serves as a warning for the government as it plans a new surge in tree planting to meet its promises on carbon.

The images, sourced via Google Earth, illustrate how land use changes from farming to plantation afforestation and wood harvesting have impacted the landscape around Tolaga Bay, near Gisborne on the East Coast of New Zealand.

Covering the period from 1984 to 2016, the images start out showing a landscape laid bare as indigenous forests were cleared in the previous century, followed by increased planting of fast-growing pine plantations through the 1990s and the rapid deforestation as fast-growing softwood timber was harvested.

Responsibility for disaster around Tolaga Bay and the restoration of the land have become contentious issues since torrential rain delivered widespread flooding in the Gisborne area. Concerns have been raised that “slash”, timber left over from logging operations, was forced down the flooded Mangaheia River during the storm.

As the images from 2010 and 2016 illustrate, steadily increasing areas of once-forested land have been laid bare, making the area susceptible to quickly eroding in a high-rainfall event.


Source:, Michael Smith is the editor of The Mud, a Rotorua-based news site.

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