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A marine reserve for Tiritiri/Whangaparaoa?

In December 2002, New Zealand Underwater announced plans for a marine reserve in the vicinity of Tiritiri Island and Whangaparaoa Peninsula, on Auckland’s front doorstep. A public discussion document was released and distributed to get as many responses as possible from as wide a divergence of people as possible.

New Zealand Underwater wants to hear from YOU. They want to hear your opinion on the idea and the various boundary options suggested, so that they can refine the boundaries before a formal application is made sometime in 2003. Or if there is overwhelming opposition to the whole concept they may completely drop the idea.

New Zealand Underwater set up a working committee about four years ago to formulate a proposal for a marine reserve around Tiritiri Island. The working group consisted of some NZU staff, representatives from the University, NERDS, an independent consultant, and the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi - involved with running the Open Sanctuary on the land at Tiritiri. The composition of the committee evolved over time, and currently includes keen fishermen as well as divers and conservationists.

Progress was pretty slow and frustrating until early in 2002 when NZU appointed Karli Thomas as Environmental Coordinator. One of her main functions was to progress the marine reserve proposal. Coming from a background with Forest and Bird in Wellington, Karli was already very "switched on" to the idea of marine reserves. Her enthusiasm was contagious and the whole project powered ahead under her guidance.

Discussions with the Auckland Regional Council revealed that they, too, were interested in a marine reserve adjacent to Shakespear Regional Park on the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula. This extremely popular Regional Park includes Army Bay on the north and Te Haruhi Bay on the south side of the Peninsula.

The extension of the conservation ethic from the successful programmes on the land at Tiritiri and on Whangaparaoa to include aspects of the coast and nearshore seas seemed a logical thing to do. Why go to so much trouble to restore the natural ecology of the land, yet ignore or condone continuing and damaging exploitation in the adjacent sea? (Did you know large hapuku were present at Tiritiri in 1945, and the area was bristling with crayfish in 1961?)

Over the past 30 years, grazing stock was removed from DOC-administered Tiritiri Island, and an extensive planting programme was carried out by an army of community volunteers. Rare and endangered native birds were introduced to the island as the bush became re-established, and the project has achieved international acclaim as a very worthwhile and successful conservation effort. Run as an "open sanctuary", thousands of visitors go to the island each year to see wildlife such as the takahe, brown teal, little spotted kiwi, stitchbirds, saddlebacks, bellbirds and kakariki. For most visitors this is the only opportunity they are likely to get to see these special native birds.

Similar, though less extensive planting programmes have been carried out at Shakespear Regional Park, and together the two areas form an extremely valuable habitat for native wildlife. Already several species of native birds established on the island have expanded across the Whangaparaoa Passage to take up residence on the mainland at Shakespear Park.

The vision of NZU is to establish a marine reserve around the Island and Peninsula, to compliment the existing conservation status of the adjacent land areas. The benefits to marine life, to interactions between the land and sea ecology, and to the public at large are potentially enormous. Here on Auckland's doorstep, where hundreds of thousands of visitors could enjoy amazing experiences every year, we could have a whole complex of marine and land animals and habitats protected for all to enjoy in a fantastic land and sea park.

After creation of a marine reserve, the marine life would come back, just as the land animals and plants have come back. But there is a major difference in effort involved. On land, thousands of volunteers worked for many years to restore the forest and re-establish the bird life. In the sea all you have to do is leave it alone and it will repair itself!! Within 5 years crayfish would re-establish a good population; after about 10 years snapper numbers and sizes would be increasing well; and by about 15 years the kelp forest would recover from heavy grazing pressure from sea urchins or kina. Following recovery of the kelp forest, a wealth of invertebrate life and other fishes would restore the ecology to near-natural.

Undisturbed by fishing, marine life would flourish, breed profusely, and export eggs and larvae to other fished areas even a long distance from the reserve. As well as this, snapper, crayfish, and other popular fishing species would frequently stray outside the boundary of the reserve, where they would boost local fishing opportunities.

Because the area is so intensively used, for conservation, passive recreation, and for fishing, NZU is expecting there will be a very wide divergence of opinion on the merits or otherwise of the proposal. There are some very popular fishing spots included, particularly in the largest of the three options put up for comment.

The largest option includes all the rocks and reefs southeast of Tiritiri Island, reefs around Little Wooded Island, and rocks and reefs north of Army Bay. These are all very popular fishing spots and their inclusion in a future no-take marine reserve is bound to be hotly debated.

The next smaller option excludes some of the rocks and reefs southeast of Tiritiri, and excludes Wellington Rock - a popular submerged fishing reef north of Army Bay. Is it expected that, if this option for a marine reserve is adopted, over time the fishing on those rocky reefs would improve dramatically.

The third and smallest option splits the protected area into three. One area surrounds Tiritiri, excluding some of the southeast reefs. A second area includes Army Bay and areas on the north of the Peninsula, but excludes Wellington Rock. The third area includes Okoromai and Te Haruhi Bays on the south side of the Peninsula.

NZU is asking for comments on any of these options, but is also inviting people to draw their own ideas for boundaries on a map in the discussion document.

If you haven't yet seen the discussion document and would like a copy, phone or email Karli Thomas at New Zealand Underwater (09 623 3252, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) and she will send you a copy. The document includes a questionnaire which should be returned to NZU, freepost, by February 28, 2003. Your views are valuable! Sponsors