It was great to hear late last month that the Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries are planning to establish an advisory committee to assist with the implementation of the Sea Change Marine Spatial Plan for Te Moananui-o-Toi (Hauraki Gulf).
Several years ago there was a lot of consultation and discussion about the health of the Gulf through the Sea Change process, which involved Government and local authorities and a wide selection of interest groups and NGOs. Strategies were suggested for fisheries management and agricultural run off, and several suitable sites were considered for marine reserves and protected areas around the Hauraki Gulf.
There were two sites recommended near Te Hauturu-O-Toi (Little Barrier Island). One site was between Aotea (Great Barrier) and Hauturu and would protect the seafloor from dredging and trawling. The second was a full Marine Protected Area that would extend north-west from the coast of Hauturu across the cable zone. This is an extensive reserve and would allow recovery of the upright marine life of the reefs to again provide their original juvenile fish habitat. It is about 180 square kilometres, which is likely to be sufficient to allow full recovery of the population structure of snapper in this area of the outer Gulf. There may also be substantial recovery of pelagic fish, which could improve the breeding success of several seabirds on local islands by pushing krill to the surface for the birds to feed to their chicks.
If we consider how the Hauraki Gulf was before a large city of over one million people arrived on its door step, we realise that not only was it teeming with life, but the islands and the mainland with their forests and cargo of birds, reptiles and insects, would have benefitted from the rich guano (bird droppings) that the nesting and burrowing seabirds brought to the land. While Hauturu is still rich in nesting seabirds, the numbers are nowhere near what they would have been before Auckland grew and the pressures of recreational fishing, commercial fishing, agriculture and city pollution adversely affected the health of the Gulf.
Over the last 10 years myself and other visitors to and around Hauturu have observed the appearance of large barren areas denuded of seaweed by kina that no longer have sufficient numbers of predators, such as large snapper and crayfish, to keep them in balance. This imbalance affects other species too as habitat is destroyed and fish nurseries and food sources diminish. Seabirds and marine mammal numbers are also affected by the reduction in food. It is hoped that the Government announcement will bring some timely results to protect the Hauraki Gulf from further degradation, while still allowing the many recreational activities that the people living around the Gulf enjoy.
Lyn Wade, Little Barrier Island Supporters Trust