Plans for 12 potential new marine reserves in the waters of the Waiheke Local Board area have been sent to the government.
The local board’s submission on the government’s proposed Marine Protected Areas Act includes detailed maps of seven new marine reserves around Waiheke and five reserves around neighbouring islands.
The new reserves and other protected areas would cover about 127 square kilometres or 10.5% of the maritime area within the local board’s limits.
The board has called on the government to consider supporting its own marine reserve proposals and those of Waiheke conservation groups.
The marine reserves proposed by the board include one from the southern headland at Matiatia to the western headland before Oneroa beach; at Little Oneroa from Puriri Road to Fisherman’s Rock; a reserve 20 metres from the shore from Fisherman’s Rock to the western end of Palm Beach; at Anzac Bay from the end of Wharf Road to the eastern end of Okoka Bay; and from Te Whau peninsula to the eastern headland past Whakanewha Regional Park.
Marine biologist Roger Grace has drawn up plans for reserves from Fisherman’s Rock to the western headland at Onetangi; and from the eastern headland past Onetangi beach to Thumb Point on the north-eastern tip of the island.
Waiheke Local Board chairperson Paul Walden says the board has put Dr Grace’s plans “on the table”, but realises the proposal to include Palm Beach in a marine reserve could be too controversial.
“We don’t want to get into a bun fight over Palm Beach, we want to get on and get some marine conservation happening now,” he says.
Dr Grace also wants the sea floor to be protected from dredging and other disturbance in a proposed benthic protection area from Te Whau point to the western headland at Awaawaroa Bay. This area could extend as far south as Beachlands in Auckland.
The board is also proposing a set net ban at the eastern point of Waiheke, from Hooks Bay to Man O’ War Bay, where spotted shags retain one of their last colonies in the Auckland region.
Marine reserves have also been proposed for the sea surrounding Rotoroa, Motuihe, The Noises, and for areas off the eastern coast of Motutapu and on the northern coast of Rangitoto and Motutapu.
If all the reserves were established, fishing would be allowed around Waiheke at Oneroa, Onetangi, from the southern headland at Matiatia to Te Whau peninsula, but excluding Anzac Bay, around most of the eastern coastline, and from a few kilometres offshore.
Mr Walden says the board hopes government ministers will consider including some of the less controversial proposed marine reserves when the new Marine Protected Areas Act is drafted.
“The government might pick six of these proposals, which would be a heck of a lot better than what we’ve got today,” he says.
All the plans are flexible and could be amended after further consultation with the community.
In a survey by the local board last year, 64% of residents supported marine reserves and the median vote was for 40% of the Hauraki Gulf to be protected by no take reserves.
Mr Walden says Waiheke’s community has led the way on creating land-based reserves and wildlife sanctuaries and “bold” action is now needed to protect and restore the ocean environment and marine life.
“The next big horizon for conservation in the gulf is in the marine environment which is so heavily degraded.
“The Hauraki Gulf Forum state of the environment reports over recent years have highlighted the significant degradation and, having grown up around the islands of the gulf, it’s heartbreaking to see how barren our sea life has become.
“It’s our responsibility as islanders who are in touch with our marine environment to be leading this conversation.”
The “commons” within the ocean are particularly vulnerable to commercial exploitation, Mr Walden notes.
“We’re in a government climate that’s determined on economic growth at any cost.
“We need to make sure that as there is an ongoing carve up of resources there is enough set aside to maintain the unique biodiversity which is at home in the Hauraki Gulf,” he says.
The Environmental Defence Society has highlighted that New Zealand is “leading the world in biodiversity decline”.
“Over 80% of our indigenous biodiversity lives in the sea yet we’re still learning about how significant this is as it disappears in front of our eyes.”
If a further 10.5% of the waters in the local board area were set aside in marine reserves, adding to the 0.59 already protected at Te Matuku Marine Reserve, within a few decades the island could enjoy an abundance of marine life similar to that seen at Goat Island marine reserve, says Mr Walden.
He hopes a marine education centre could be established within the planned marine reserve at Matiatia, offering opportunities for academic research and for the public to visit an aquarium.
The board’s submission to the government opposes the planned new recreational fishing park in the Hauraki Gulf and argues that there should be no mineral exploration or mining in the gulf.
“Recreational fishing is a significant contributor to the continued decline of fish species in the gulf.
“We owe it to future generations of Aucklanders, and visitors to Auckland, to ensure that the spectacular biodiversity found in the gulf is restored,” the board’s submission states. • Rose Davis