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DoC unable to conserve rare skink habitat

Conservation Department unable to conserve rare skink habitat
Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party 3 July 2008


The Minister of Conservation confirmed in Parliament yesterday that her department has had to remove a population of rare moko skinks from their natural habitat at Whangamata, in order to save them from the bulldozers.

The salt marsh where the skinks were recently rediscovered is part of the site for a huge marina development, due to start any time.

“I asked the Minister how the skinks would be protected, once the marina development has paved over the salt marsh for a car park, the pipi beds have been dredged for a shipping channel, and jetties, fuel depots and facilities have blocked public access to the shore,” said Maori Party Co-leader Tariana Turia.

“The Minister said they were removing the skinks from their natural environment, clearly because the Conservation Department cannot guarantee to protect that environment,” she said.

“On Tuesday, tangata whenua occupied the site, to protect not only the skinks, but also beds of pipi, rare native birds, and the natural habitat where they live.

“I also asked the Minister if the tangata whenua might have been in a stronger position to protect their foreshore and seabed themselves, if their customary rights had not been extinguished by her government’s foreshore and seabed legislation. The Minister said her focus was on saving the skinks,” said Mrs Turia.

“So the message is that the government confiscated the customary rights of tangata whenua, because they couldn’t trust iwi to exercise their rights responsibly – and then the same government allows private developers to destroy the environment and prevent public access to and use of the shore – and simply concentrates on shifting the wildlife out before the bulldozers move in.

“Well, Minister, the tangata whenua will not be shifting – I am quite sure they are there to stay, and if they succeed in their occupation, the moko skinks, the rare birds and the pipi beds will be there to stay as well,” she said.

“If anyone has to shift, it should be the developers, and soon, before they get to privatise this piece of foreshore and seabed, close off public access, sell the marina berths to the wealthy few, and then move on, taking their tidy profit with them,” said Mrs Turia.

--

PQs: Question 10 - Moko Skinks—Relocation

(Following are replies to oral questions to ministers as posted on the Parliamentary web site (http://www.parliament.nz) today. These are uncorrected transcripts and subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard)

10. Hon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Maori Party) to the Minister of Conservation: What assurances can she give that relocation of the moko skinks from Whangamata marina site will not affect a species categorised as “sparse” in the North Island skink recovery plan 2002-2012?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation) : I can assure the member that any relocation of the moko skinks will enhance their protection. Although the species is categorised as “sparse”, it is widespread, with at least five mainland populations and around 33 populations on offshore islands. There are a number of options for the population discovered at Whangamata in February. My department is in consultation with iwi and is working to ensure that we do the best we can for the skinks.

Hon Tariana Turia: Does the Minister agree with the Department of Conservation’s threatened species recovery plan for skinks, which states that there should be: “high levels of dialogue with iwi”, and what dialogue has there been with Ngati Whanaunga and Ngati Kupenga o Ngati Hako, who have opposed the proposed Whangamata marina from the outset?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I am advised that because the Department of Conservation Waikato Conservancy approved an emergency translocation permit, iwi were not initially consulted according to the normal protocol. However, as soon as my department became aware of the iwi concern, skink collection was immediately halted. I regret that iwi were not consulted. However, I am satisfied that they have now been brought into the process.

Hon Tariana Turia: Is the Minister aware that at the same time yesterday that she was announcing success at saving skinks—for grand and Otago skinks—the tangata whenua of Whangamata began an occupation in a protest action opposing the destruction of the habitat of several rare and threatened coastal bird species and the removal of the moko skink; and when will the people of Whangamata also benefit from success at saving skinks?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I am aware of the occupation. The occupation does reflect the strong feelings that iwi have towards the marina development as a whole. My department is focused on working with iwi, as I said, to develop an acceptable solution for the future of the moko skink.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What progress is being made in protecting New Zealand’s indigenous skink species?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: As the previous questioner noted in her comment about the announcement yesterday, we are making significant progress on recovery plans for the most threatened skinks. Yesterday I announced a major recovery breakthrough with the grand and the Otago skinks, and predator control has led to a dramatic recovery of around 94 percent for a managed population in just 3 years. It can be done.

Hon Tariana Turia: Is it possible that had the Foreshore and Seabed Act not been passed by the Labour-led Government, the tangata whenua of Whangamata might have been in a stronger position to prevent the privatisation of the coast and to maintain public access and natural values, including the moko skink and its natural habitat, by virtue of having customary rights to the foreshore and seabed?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: Recognition of iwi interests in the foreshore and seabed is a matter for the Attorney-General. As the Minister of Conservation, I am responsible for decisions around restricted coastal activities. That decision has been made, and my focus now is on the suitable protection of the moko skink.


ENDS

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