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.