A citizens’ group is pushing for expanded environmental protection in the Hauraki Gulf. Matthew Scott reports

The submission period begins today for a proposed marine reserve in the Hauraki Gulf that would be the first new reserve in the area in 20 years.

The Hākaimangaō-Matiatia (Northwest Waiheke) marine reserve proposal is being put forward by citizen conservation group Friends of the Hauraki Gulf.

At 2350 hectares, Hākaimangaō-Matiatia would be the largest marine reserve in the Gulf – almost doubling the protected area.

But with only 0.3 percent (3961ha) of the Hauraki Gulf marine park fully-protected as a marine reserve, there’s still a ways to go before the Hauraki Gulf Forum, established with the marine park to work for its protection, sees its hoped-for 30 percent under some kind of protection.

Former Auckland councillor and conservationist Mike Lee serves as the chair of Friends of Hauraki Gulf. He hoped this proposal would get the ball rolling on the reserve. The public will get a say before it goes in front of Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan in three months.

“Finally we are doing something tangible and meaningful to protect the Hauraki Gulf and the previous threatened wildlife which lives here – instead of endlessly talking about it,” Lee said.

The proposed site covers part of the northwest coast of Waiheke Island, before stretching across the Gulf almost to Rakino Island. This area was first earmarked as a prime spot for protection in 2015 by marine biologist Dr Tim Haggitt, in a study commissioned by the Waiheke Local Board.

The proposed site for the Hākaimangaō-Matiatia (Northwest Waiheke) marine reserve. Image: Supplied

While many of the other protected areas in the Gulf hug the coastline, the proposed reserve would occupy an important transitional zone between the waters of the inner and outer Gulf – the point where the seafloor drops away to a deeper ecosystem where rare species, such as packhorse crayfish, can be found.

Lee said the proposal was a modest attempt to give the Hauraki Gulf the protection it deserved.

“This area is nationally significant, yet less than half a percent of it is actually protected,” he said. “This is our attempt to change that.”

While the creation of the new reserve would still mean only a small portion of the region was protected from commercial and recreational fishing, Lee said it was a move in the right direction.

“It’s another step towards making a coherent network of protected areas in the Gulf,” he said.

Studies show a little can go a long way when it comes to bringing back fish species and kelp forests.

Zoe Qu is a marine science PhD student at the University of Auckland who is interested in the space where business management meets conservation.

Along with her fellow researchers, she has looked into the the ecological and economic effects of marine protected areas.

Genetic analysis of snapper caught with 55 kilometres of the Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve (Goat Island) found just over ten percent were born in the reserve – meaning the protected area is playing a hefty role in providing the wider area with fish.

Qu describes marine protection as something of a self-sustaining process. Fishing restrictions mean there are more snapper to eat the kina that would otherwise be free to feast on the growing kelp forests.

Not only does quick-growing kelp sequester carbon, it provides fish with a place to live and breed – leading to more snapper down the line.

“Commercial and recreational fishing is big for New Zealand, so protection is even more important,” Qu said. “Marine reserves are a sustainable way to keep doing that in the long term.”

Lee agreed that protecting marine species was in the best interests of commercial fisheries in the long run, although this wasn’t the motivation for Friends of the Hauraki Gulf. The group was spurred into action by what it sees as a developing crisis in the Gulf, with those in power doing little to stop it.

“That’s been the recurring story through history when it comes to conservation,” Lee said. “Quite often, ordinary Kiwis take the lead.”

And those who live closest to the proposed site seem to be largely in agreement. A Colmar Brunton survey commissioned by the Waiheke Local Board found total support of 67 percent for marine protected areas from island residents and 54 percent from off-island ratepayers.

Lee was confident public support would be on the side of the reserve, although acknowledged people had a democratic right to voice any concerns they had.

Those behind the proposal will then have the opportunity to respond before the proposal goes to Government.

And with 2020’s State of the Gulf report showing plummeting numbers for fish, and unchecked proliferation of kina barrens, Lee says there’s an urgent need.

“We need a place where we put nature first,” he said. “It’s something we care deeply about.”

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

Leave a comment