Sea-change? Yeah right.

Blogger: North Canterbury Branch Member, Eugenie Sage

Conservation Minister, Kate Wilkinson’s dismal decision to reject the application for a 530 ha. marine reserve inside Akaroa Harbour highlights once again the current Government’s callous attitude to nature conservation.

The reserve application was lodged by the Akaroa Harbour Marine Protection Society (AHMPS) in 1996. It survived for 14 years through government processes, at least six Ministers of Conservation and consideration by the Maori Land Court only to be rejected by the Minister because of her perception of undue adverse effects on recreational fishers.

This is ignoring public opinion given that 2334 (73%) of the 3043 submissions which DoC received supported the marine reserve.

Akaroa’s harbour’s south eastern coast has a spectacular seascape of coastal cliffs, sea caves and steep bluffs. The proposed marine reserve site at Dan Rogers features a dramatic sea cave and a 275 metre volcanic bluff. Underwater, large basalt boulders create caves, overhangs and reefs extending out to beyond 100 m. providing shelter for juvenile paua and fish larvae.

Spotty, sea tulips, threatened Hector’s dolphins, wrasse, butterfish, triplefin, leatherjacket, rock cod, blue cod hydroids, sponges, pink anemones, and sea squirts are just some of the inhabitants of these waters.

On land, the site includes a breeding colony of several hundred spotted shags. White flippered penguins (a species endemic to Canterbury) use the site , and fur seals can be seen on the rocky platforms.

Two of Banks Peninsula’s best coastal forest remnants are protected in adjacent conservation reserves at Dan Rogers and Nikau Palm Gully. The marine reserve would have protected a stunning land to sea sequence

The Minister’s decision is a lost opportunity for spill-over enhancement from a reserve. When the reserve was first mooted its main opponents were commercial fishers. Now there are insufficient fish within the harbour to support any commercial fishers.

The small number of recreational fishers who opposed the reserve were some of the same fishers who opposed set net controls and the establishment of the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary to protect Hector’s dolphin in 1988. Recreational fishes have been neither numerous nor vocal. They have had, however, a powerful ally in Ngai Tahu who have strongly opposed the reserve.

The process has taken 14 years largely because the application was put on hold by former Conservation Minister Nick Smith to allow Ngai Tahu to progress their taiapure application for Akaroa Harbour.

After careful consideration of submissions and evidence the Maori Land Court recommended in 2004 that the taiapure proceed but that its boundaries specifically exclude the Dan Rogers area to enable a marine reserve to be established there. Forest and Bird supported this decision. The Akaroa taiapure was established in 2006 over 90 % of the harbour and beyond its entrance.

If the Minister had followed the Maori Land Court’s example we could have had both Maori customary fisheries management through the taiapure and a marine reserve providing a scientific baseline for the success of fisheries management initiatives such as recent bag limits in the taiapure for red cod, blue moki, blue cod and some shellfish.

With decisions such as Akaroa, reaching the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy’s target of protecting 10% of our marine environment by 2010 seems unlikely on mainland New Zealand.


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10 Comments

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  1. August 25, 2010 9:41 pm
    Gerry McSweeney says

    The decision is a really sad reflection on attitudes prevalent amongst a group of influential Canterbury politicians and business leaders. Nature conservation is seen as a total disconnect from the continued vibrancy of the Canterbury economy.

    12% of Akaroa Harbour as an accessible marine reserve is surely not too much to ask for. Clearly to thsese people it is. The Canterbury Cat and other Hector’s Dolphin watching nature tours in Akaroa Harbour have injected a real vibrancy into the town over the last 12 years. They visit this marine reserve site and would be foremost in celebrating its protection. I was incredibly impressed by the strong conservation message put across on the PA to all of us on the Canterbury Cat by the Scottish origin skipper. We went on the boat in January 2010.

    A small marine reserve in Akaroa Harbour would truly have shown that we had grown up as a nation and recognised the need for healthy functioning marine ecosystems. The reserve would certainly have made every Kiwi proud had the tourist boat skippers been able to celebrate in their tourist commentaries that NZ had committed to protect the fish over 12% of Akaroa Harbour.

    Instead we have a situation where the old ways win. Red necks demand every square inch of the harbour for recreational fishing. Divers are ignored. Jet Skis will keep powering all over the inner harbour at Akaroa frightening and damaging the dolphins and deafening the human residents.

    Fishing boats will continue to exercise their greed. The latest example being the Korean fishing boat sunk off Southern NZ. Press reports today suggest that they had 130 tonnes of fish in their nets. So much that the weight simply tipped the boat over. The Skipper wouldn’t listen to the crew and kept pulling this enormous catch in. As well as losing the boat, most of this 130 tonnes of fish will have been killed. This is just greed.

    Thanks Eugenie for remnding us just how much fruitless effort was put into the Akaroa Harbour Marine Reserve. WE all can only be very disappointed in the decision of the Minister of Conservation, Canterbury’s first ever Minister of Conservation. Give me an Aucklander any day. Auckland Minister’s of Conservation include Helen Clark, Sandra Lee and Chris Carter, all of whom were very good at creating new conservation areas including marine reserves. Nick Smith from Nelson was also very determined to create Marine reserves whe he was MOC too.

  2. August 26, 2010 8:05 am
    Jan Cook says

    Agreed, it’s such a shame.

    Here’s my letter to the Minister of Conservation –

    Open Letter to Hon. Kate Wilkinson, Minister Of Conservation

    Re: Akaroa Marine Reserve

    Dear Minister

    Our families have been keen recreational fishers for generations, but we have supported and actively promoted the Akaroa Marine Reserve since its inception.
    Your decision to decline the Akaroa Marine Reserve solely on the grounds that it would unduly affect recreational fishing makes no sense. You have failed to take into account the huge benefits to fishers of having a small conservation area in a Harbour that is increasingly devoid of fish. What your decision is actually saying is that fishers can continue to ‘not catch anything’, but at least they will be able to do it anywhere they like in the Harbour!

    You have accepted that the many benefits of the Reserve, as expressed by the Maori Land Court Tribunal’s Report, outweigh the detrimental effects and that customary fishing and that the mana and rangitiratanga of the runaka can be properly provided for in the balance 90% of the Harbour. Can you please explain to us why you have not applied the same logic and consideration to the matter of recreational fishing?

    You state that current nature tourism is focussed on the scenic values of the land and sea. This is a superficial and incorrect assessment. The opportunity to encounter marine wildlife, in particular dolphins, penguins, and seabirds is a primary objective for the majority of those visiting Akaroa and taking Harbour tours. A healthy natural ecosystem will help support the food sources and breeding grounds of these endangered species. Tourist numbers are predicted to double within the next 10 years, and the industry is now very widely supportive of the opportunities offered by a Harbour Reserve.

    How can you possibly conclude that the effects on the small and ever-dwindling recreational fishing sector outweigh the recreational enhancement offered by a Reserve?

    While it is inevitable that fishing interests will vocally oppose any marine reserve you have misread the level of support for the Akaroa Reserve in the community. While there were over 2300 submissions in support in 1996 it would be fair to say that for many years support was not openly expressed by many in the community due to the divisive and at times unpleasant nature of the issue. In the past few years though this has changed very noticeably. Fed up with waiting, more and more individuals and businesses have been coming forward with open support. Particularly noticeable for us, with two teenagers at school, has been the support of young people. We hear reports of passionate discussions, with some of the most vocal supporters from families we know to be objectors to the reserve, including members of the local runaka. These young people were babies when the Akaroa Marine Reserve was proposed.
    What say are they getting in their future? Did you attempt to gain their views?

    Your Government, which likes to promote itself as forward thinking, clearly cannot see beyond past practices of total exploitation and squandered resources.
    Sea creatures have an intrinsic value as part of a vital ecosystem. They are not just our dinner!
    Your bizarre decision is bad news for conservation, bad news for our local economy, bad news for fishers and bad news for the National Party and its Government.
    Why on earth are you Minister of Conservation? What is your vision for marine conservation?

    None of the questions we ask here are intended to be simply rhetorical. We await your response.

    Yours Sincerely
    David Brailsford & Jan Cook

  3. August 26, 2010 11:44 am
    Kirstie Knowles says

    Well said team.
    Truely a bizarre decision.

    Forest & Bird’s media statement can be found here: http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/what-we-do/publications/media-releases/-forest-bird-disappointed-akaroa-decision

    We’re following up and will keep yous all posted.

    Kirstie
    Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate

  4. August 27, 2010 11:11 am
    poataniwha says

    here is a letter from the honarary field officer of the South Canterbury branch to the Moc.

    South Canterbury Branch
    29a Nile St
    Timaru

    24.08.10

    The Minister of Conservation
    Parliament Buildings
    Wellington

    Dear Minister

    Akaroa Harbour Marine Reserve decision

    On behalf of the 270 members of the South Canterbury Branch, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of NZ Inc, I write to you to say we are most disappointed that you have declined to establish a Marine Reserve in Akaroa Harbour.

    In 1994 I submitted, on behalf of the Branch, a submission fully supporting a marine reserve because of the important conservation and ecological values it would protect within a small area of the harbour. Not only for their high intrinsic values but also for both present and future generations. I submitted in good faith that our views would be taken into account, which now, regrettably, appears not to be the case

    And marine reserves, such as the one proposed for Akaroa Harbour would have provided a secure breeding and nursery habitat for many species of indigenous marine life. It is well known by those with a knowledge of marine conservation that such reserves benefit the wider marine environment as fish and other marine species, migrate outwards into the surrounding waters. And so benefit the fish stocks, at least, in the wider surrounding coastal waters.

    Akaroa Harbour is an highly important area for the endangered Hector’s dolphin, which is an attraction for many people who come to the area especially to see this attractive marine mammal. These dolphins depend on an abundance of fishlife in particular, to remain in the harbour area and so a marine reserve would have been highly beneficial to this attractive native species.

    This decision also sets an alarming precedence and it appears that you have given preference to recreational interests over the need to protect, for all time, a relatively small area of Akaroa Harbour as a marine reserve. And it is also alarming that you do not appear to understand the important part marine reserves play in maintaining and enhancing the wider marine environment. As Minister for Conservation this should be your first consideration, conserving and protecting the marine environment and not allowing it to be further exploited for the benefit of a few receptionists.

    So, your credibility for conserving and protecting the natural environment of the whole country, including the marine environment, is now open to question. You have appeared to have bowed to interest groups who do not put the protection of the natural environment as their foremost consideration.

    While you have made a decision, not to proceed with the Marine Reserve in Akaroa Harbour, which the Branch submitted on in good faith and supported, we do ask that you now make every effort to restore your credibility as the Minister of Conservation. By being seen to act firstly to be protect important areas for conservation and not solely for recreation. In particular by approving more marine reserves in the near future – such as the one proposed for the area around the peninsular at Kaikoura.

    The Branch is deeply disappointment with your decision not to approve the establishment of a Marine Reserve in Akaroa Harbour in order to protect significant marine ecosystems in that important area. And also it is most disappointing that you do not seem to appreciated the ecological and tourist benefits that arise from such protected marine areas.

    We trust that in the near future, you will indeed approve the protection some coastal areas at least, as Marine Reserves.

    Yours sincerely

    Fraser Ross
    Field Officer – voluntary

    cc: Jo Goodhew
    cc: John Key.

  5. August 27, 2010 11:51 am
    Anne says

    As long as the Aucklander you want doesn’t wear a yellow jacket, Tawaki…8-)

    And as an ‘outsider’ (not a Canterbury resident, that is) I can’t help but look askance at the fact that the Minister is a Cantabrian yet it seems that Canterbury is the region landing a number of blows to conservation at the moment…the agenda seems not to be so hidden!! From this Aucklander’s view it looks a bit like Shootout at the OK Corale (spelling?). But correct me if I’m wrong please Minister….

  6. August 27, 2010 4:01 pm
    Kathleen Reid says

    I am part of the applicant group for the Akaroa marine reserve. We believe the Minister’s decision is astoundingly short-sighted. She has not taken into account the depletion of Akaroa Harbour or the huge water-based tourism industry. Everyone, even the fishers, recognise that the fishing is not what it used to be. Red cod has disappeared completely from the harbour. Maybe Kate Wilkinson will catch the last remaining fish?. Please everybody, email Kate W (kate.wilkinson@parliament.govt.nz) and tell her how disappointed you are. Just ask her how come fishing is more important that conservation. Better to ask questions than just make statements. The greedy fishers have 90% of the harbour now to fish in, but it seems the Minister didn’t think this was enough.

  7. September 6, 2010 10:58 am
    Fraser Ross says

    Below is our letter to Kate Wilkinson

    Dear Minister

    Akaroa Harbour Marine Reserve decision

    On behalf of the 270 members of the South Canterbury Branch, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of NZ Inc, I write to you to say we are most disappointed that you have declined to establish a Marine Reserve in Akaroa Harbour.

    In 1994 I submitted, on behalf of the Branch, a submission fully supporting a marine reserve because of the important conservation and ecological values it would protect within a small area of the harbour. Not only for their high intrinsic values but also for both present and future generations. I submitted in good faith that our views would be taken into account, which now, regrettably, appears not to be the case

    And marine reserves, such as the one proposed for Akaroa Harbour would have provided a secure breeding and nursery habitat for many species of indigenous marine life. It is well known by those with a knowledge of marine conservation that such reserves benefit the wider marine environment as fish and other marine species, migrate outwards into the surrounding waters. And so benefit the fish stocks, at least, in the wider surrounding coastal waters.

    Akaroa Harbour is an highly important area for the endangered Hector’s dolphin, which is an attraction for many people who come to the area especially to see this attractive marine mammal. These dolphins depend on an abundance of fishlife in particular, to remain in the harbour area and so a marine reserve would have been highly beneficial to this attractive native species.

    This decision also sets an alarming precedence and it appears that you have given preference to recreational interests over the need to protect, for all time, a relatively small area of Akaroa Harbour as a marine reserve. And it is also alarming that you do not appear to understand the important part marine reserves play in maintaining and enhancing the wider marine environment. As Minister for Conservation this should be your first consideration, conserving and protecting the marine environment and not allowing it to be further exploited for the benefit of a few receptionists.

    So, your credibility for conserving and protecting the natural environment of the whole country, including the marine environment, is now open to question. You have appeared to have bowed to interest groups who do not put the protection of the natural environment as their foremost consideration.

    While you have made a decision, not to proceed with the Marine Reserve in Akaroa Harbour, which the Branch submitted on in good faith and supported, we do ask that you now make every effort to restore your credibility as the Minister of Conservation. By being seen to act firstly to be protect important areas for conservation and not solely for recreation. In particular by approving more marine reserves in the near future – such as the one proposed for the area around the peninsular at Kaikoura.

    The Branch is deeply disappointment with your decision not to approve the establishment of a Marine Reserve in Akaroa Harbour in order to protect significant marine ecosystems in that important area. And also it is most disappointing that you do not seem to appreciated the ecological and tourist benefits that arise from such protected marine areas.

    We trust that in the near future, you will indeed approve the protection some coastal areas at least, as Marine Reserves.

    Yours sincerely

    Fraser Ross
    Field Officer – voluntary

    cc: Jo Goodhew
    cc: John Key.

  8. September 6, 2010 1:34 pm
    Diane says

    Hi Eugenie,

    What is the process from here – does the thing get completely squashed, or can it be re-floated at a later stage (under a different government perhaps)?

  9. September 10, 2010 9:28 am
    Eugenie Sage says

    It could be EXCEPT THAT we understand that Ngai Tahu and the Akaroa taiapure management committee are moving quickly to have the taiapure which covers 90% of Akaroa Harbour extended to cover the Dan Rogers area without public consultation.

    Legally you cannot have a dual regime over the same area of sea space i.e. a marine reserve and a taiapure because they are established and managed under different legislation. (A taiapure is a fisheries management tool under the Fisheries Act). If Ngai Tahu is successful in extending the taiapure, it would then be impossible to re-apply for a marine reserve. You can write to Fisheries Minister, Phil Heatley asking him to not extend the taiapure.

  10. September 27, 2010 6:54 pm
    Anne says

    Well it looks like the Minister took that last sentence in your letter to heart, Fraser, with today’s (Sept 27) decision to stamp yes to a new marine reserve at Tawharanui, north of Auckland.
    The fact that this area has been a marine park with no fishing allowed for years would’ve made the decision a lot easier to make I’m sure, though.

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