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Open Letter From Great Barrier Island

Fri, 17 Sep 2004

We were never in principal against marine reserves


There follows a letter opposing the Department of Conservation proposal to establish a marine reserve off Great Barrier Island.

This document, (from Helmut Bender and Meryle Thomson) was greeted with acclaim at a public meeting held at Great Barrier on Saturday 11th September.

The document details how local DOC staff:

· Have misled the public, the media and the minister.

· Are seeking a reserve inconsistent with government policy (in the circumstances).

· Have lost local support.

Great Barrier residents would appreciate your assistance in opposing this proposal as being contrary to the public interest.

John Mellars, Chairman, Great Barrier Community Board.


September 14 2004

Director General

Department of Conservation

Private Bag 68-908


Submission of Helmut Bender and Meryle Thomson opposing establishing a marine reserve on the northeast coast of Great Barrier Island

We have never been in principal against marine reserves. We have seen a lot of them, living aboard our boat for more than a decade. Most of them did not have the label “marine reserve”, but they were de facto ones, situated in remote places far away from big cities and pollution, mass tourism and commercial fisheries. The locals lived in harmony with them, taking out what they needed for their diet, and so did we. And we all felt we were part of the food chain, keeping the ecosystem in a healthy balance.

The northeast coast of Great Barrier has a lot in common with this scenario, and still appears to us as a de facto marine reserve, apart from the commercial fishing of course.

Since 1994 we are Great Barrier Island ratepayers and residents.

We feel DoC on Great Barrier has handled the whole issue of a marine reserve in a totally unacceptable way. How can you get the community behind an idea when in so many incidences you have misled the public, the media and the Minister of Conservation? To illustrate our point here are some examples:

1.The NZ government wants to convert 10% of its territorial waters into Marine Protected Areas. In their biodiversity strategy, the government spells out what a Marine Protected Area can be.

A) Marine Reserve (no take area)

B) Marine Park with restricted recreational fishing of permitted species only, no commercial fishing (e.g. Mimiwhangata)

C) Marine Protected Area with no commercial fishing (e.g. Sugar Loaf Island)

D) Wildlife Management Reserve with no commercial fishing, restricted recreational fishing (e.g. Westhaven on the northwest coast of the south island)

E) Mataitai Reserve with restricted recreational fishing only (e.g. Paterson Inlet on Stewart island)

F) Taiapure-local fisheries, only recreational fishing

That means the NZ government offers a whole range of options of marine protected areas, which may also be used as combinations. Only one of them is the ‘no take marine reserve’. Doc on GBI ignores the NZ government strategy and tells us there is only one option, a ‘no take marine reserve’.

A good example of the intention of the government’s strategy is Paterson inlet on Stewart Island: 10 % is no take marine reserve and 90% is a mataitai reserve with recreational fishing. Fisheries minister David Benson-Pope in his press release 8 June 2004: “..the marine reserve and the mataitai reserve…complement each other well and enhance both fisheries and biodiversity in Stewart Island”.

Former minister of Conservation Sandra Lee in her press release from 30 July 2002: “The boundaries have been set with the intention of maintaining the scientific integrity of the marine reserve, while accommodating community concerns about access for recreational and customary fishing…. There is a potential for a mataitai to complement the marine reserve and provide benefits to everyone concerned for the health and productivity of Paterson Inlet marine communities.”

DoC Great Barrier Island: nothing else than a “no take marine reserve only” is acceptable.

2. In last year’s community meeting, convened by the community board in Claris, 95% voted against the proposed marine reserve. While the vote was taken, the DoC public relations manager went out to be interviewed by TV 3: With overwhelming negative feedback against the DoC proposal reverberating in his ears, he led the TV 3 viewers to believe that the DoC proposal had strong support from the meeting. Even when the result of the vote was announced he chose to stick to his misleading statements to TV 3.

3. Halfway through the submission period the public was again misled. On June 17, 2003 in a report that quoted DoC Auckland conservator Rob McCallum the NZ Herald wrote: “ DoC said, almost 2/3 of the feedback it had received on the proposed Great Barrier Island marine reserve was in favour of the plan.” It did not help, the truth was devastating: from 1863 submissions only 11% were in favour. And even more telling, of the 414 Barrier submissions, only 47 were in favour.

4. In its biodiversity strategy, the NZ government wants to find out whether recreational fishing has an adverse impact on biodiversity, and research needs to be done. Unfortunately DoC on Great Barrier is not interested. For more than 20 years they have been playing with the idea of a marine reserve on the northeast coast, giving them plenty of time to do some research on the effect of recreational fishing.

It is not even known whether the biodiversity has changed. We can only conclude that the Department does not want to find out, because such a study would have made it clear: the impact of recreational fishing on the biodiversity of the northeast coast of Great Barrier is negligible. In the absence of any evidence they keep telling the people, in effect, that a solution like that found for Stewart Island or Westhaven would badly affect the biodiversity in the proposed area.

5. At the community meetings on the island in Tryphena and Port Fitzroy, DoC stated that they would not go ahead with their proposal if they did not have the support of the community. Later on though, they decided 47 out of 414 is enough support and went ahead with a couple of cosmetic changes.

6. In the application brochure DoC tells the Minister of Conservation that the proposed marine reserve covers only 18% of Great Barriers coastline. To make a fair statement, one has to consider that the prevailing wind on the Barrier comes from a westerly direction. That means 220 days in a year we have winds between northwest and south/southwest, with rough conditions in most parts of the west coast. On those days, the east coast is quite protected, at least down to Medlands beach. If you include the coastline of Rakitu Island and the de facto marine reserve of the Navy Area you will find that, under DoCs current proposal, 80% of the east coast would be closed to all fishing.

7. Again in the application brochure DoC gives the impression that the proposed area is hardly used by Great Barrier residents for recreational fishing. They base this on their own “survey”, in which they counted at a single time (9 o’clock) for a period of about 4 weeks, the number of boats on anchor in the area. That means: one single minute in a 24-hour day. They missed of course the locals, who come out fishing in dinghies or runabouts for one or two hours. And they missed also anyone fishing from the shoreline, off beaches and rocks.

The Marine Reserve Act recommends getting the support from the community for a marine reserve. That would give it a higher chance of success.

However it would appear DoC on Great Barrier has gone in the opposite direction. From the beginning of their campaign they aligned themselves with the extreme fundamentalists, far away from the more moderate views of the NZ government. Only a giant marine reserve and nothing else could be discussed. Solutions like those found for Paterson Inlet or Westhaven were not even worth considering.

No surprise that they found only a few likeminded followers in this community. Even environmentalists with quite some sympathy for the achievements of DoC in NZ turned away in disbelief, us among them. In desperation their misleading campaign went from bad to worse, plummeting their public relations to an absolute low.

Extreme views have never done any good for the world. People carrying these views like doctrines have one thing in common: They have neither the desire, nor the ability to find compromises. Further, they don’t understand that a tiny bit more moderate approach would lead to the same benefits. And the overriding benefit cannot be highlighted enough: They would have the support of the Great Barrier Island community.

At this stage, when all attempts to find a more moderate approach with the same and even more benefits have failed, we are left with nothing but to object to the proposal for three reasons:

Reason 1: The approach of DoC on Great Barrier Island, a Marine Protected Area can only be a ‘no take marine reserve’ does not reflect the strategy of the NZ Government, which allows for various other forms of marine protection.

Reason 2: The proposal affects us as locals unduly, as it effectively takes out 80% of the protected part of the east coast, which is in most of the year the only area where we can catch fish to supplement our diet. Fresh fish is not otherwise available on the island.

Reason 3: During the consultation process and up till now, the local Department
has misled the public, the media and the Minister of Conservation. This is unacceptable and there should be an investigation into the matter.


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