Saturday, 04 April 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Time is running out for the Hauraki Gulf

Paddling a waka against the tide is how the body charged with monitoring and improving the health of the Hauraki Gulf has described its own efforts.

A hopelessly ineffective Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act is being blamed for a raft of statistics which show that conditions for marine and bird life overall are worse now than when the park was formed 20 years ago.

Twenty people sit on the Hauraki Gulf Forum, which meets quarterly with the stated objective of promoting and facilitating integrated management and the protection and enhancement of the gulf. The members are representatives of the Ministers of Conservation, Fisheries and Māori Development, elected representatives of Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council, Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki, Waikato and Matamata-Piako District Councils and representatives of the tangata whenua of the Hauraki Gulf and its islands.

In 2018/19, the forum had a budget of $275,897, with $162,820 of that going towards executive support, a further $23,505 towards an education project and $15,000 towards communications and publicity. Of this funding, $29,057 came from Waikato Regional Council and $11,670 from Thames-Coromandel District Council, with a further $137,252 contributed by the three government departments.

“There is no avoiding the fact that all six State of Our Gulf reports by the Hauraki Gulf Forum tell a depressing story of environmental loss since the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park was established 20 years ago,” says Denis Tegg, who recently became part of the forum as the newly elected WRC representative for the Thames-Coromandel constituency.

“The forum is an easy target for finger-pointing and blame. But this arises from a misunderstanding of the powers and functions of the forum. The forum is not a decision-making body. It is an advisory and advocacy agency only, with the important role to prepare and publish State of Our Gulf reports every three years. It costs each WRC ratepayer about 20 cents a year to fund the forum - hardly a burden.”

The recent release of the latest triennial State of Our Gulf report describes how the battle is being lost in the fight to reverse or even manage the impacts of development. The combined efforts of legislation, enforcement, voluntary work, and community and Māori initiatives are not working.

“To date, [legislation, enforcement, voluntary work, and community and Māori initiatives] don’t appear to have the strength and stamina needed to hold against the tide of population and economic pressures on the moana,” the report says. “Similar stories have been repeatedly told in the 20 years and six State of the Gulf reports since the Marine Park was established. They essentially come down to the struggle between economic development and population growth on the one hand, and environmental loss on the other. There is no free lunch.”

Looking ahead, the forum says a fresh approach is now needed in order to change the trend of decline. “New initiatives are happening that may help or hinder,” the report says. “But perhaps it is time to also consider whether we got the balance between environmental, economic and social values right in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act. Whether there are better options for delivering integrated management and improved outcomes for the Gulf.

“Changes in the Marine Park have often been rapid and unidirectional. It is too late to reverse the effects of many past actions, or inactions. However, we can decide the future. It is up to us to determine what the future will be and to take the actions needed to achieve it. That needs to be done quickly, because time is working against us.”

Evidence of the conflicting priorities inhibiting progress litter the report. The total reported commercial catch of fish in the most recent three-year period was around 30 per cent greater than in the three years before the Marine Park was established. Between 2016/17 and 2018/19, around 22 percent of Danish Seine sets occurred in 300 square kilometres where regulations prohibit this method of fishing. The area of the Marine Park protected by marine reserves has only increased by 0.05 per cent during the park’s lifetime. Marine farming has increased substantially, particularly in the Firth of Thames. Marine farms occupied around 685 ha of space in 2000. Today, consents for shellfish farms in the Waikato Region cover around 1,562ha with another 390ha zoned for fish farms. In the Auckland Region, existing farm footprints cover around 240ha, with recent approvals allowing for another 960ha and applications being processed for around 334 ha. In 2000, four per cent of seabirds were classed as threatened, today 22 per cent are. Mass mortalities of fish and shellfish are frequent with 10 [mass mortalities] recorded in the Marine Park over the last 10 years.

There were, however, some notable wins with pests eliminated from 15 islands since 2000, increasing the number of pest-free sanctuaries from 25 to 40. Only one Bryde’s whale has been killed by ship strike since a voluntary transit protocol was introduced in 2013 to limit ship speeds. By comparison, six whales were killed by ship strike in the five years before the Marine Park was established. Tāmure and tarakihi were previously at levels where action was needed to actively rebuild their stocks. The rebuild of these stocks towards target levels is now expected. The gemfish stock is also being actively rebuilt.

 “The real power to improve the state of the gulf rests with central, local and regional government and with the public itself. Unfortunately, successive governments have ignored the strong advocacy from the forum for more protection of the gulf. Local authorities have concentrated on economic growth and development. Meanwhile sediment, nutrients, plastic and other pollutants continued to flow into the firth/gulf at alarming levels,” says Mr Tegg.

“Crayfish are now ‘functionally extinct’ in the gulf and many fish species are in decline. Our much-lauded fish quota system has not prevented this decline, and recreational fishers must accept some responsibility as well. With over 400km of coastline and much of the Marine Park in my constituency, I am determined that WRC plays a much stronger role in protecting marine biodiversity.”

Pictured: A map of the area covered by the Hauraki Marine Park which,A map of the area covered by the Hauraki Marine Park which,according to the latest State of Our Gulf report, is in severe decline.

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