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Great Barrier marine reserve application notified

2 August 2004

Great Barrier marine reserve proposal notified

Auckland has no national park but could have an underwater equivalent in the Department of Conservation's planned Great Barrier Island marine reserve, notified today.

Rocky shores, golden sands, clear oceanic waters, sub-tropical fish, sponge-studded deep reefs and coral trees all feature in the proposed marine reserve area off Great Barrier's isolated north-eastern coast.

More than seven distinct underwater habitats and hundreds of marine species, including over 80 fish species, stand to be protected in the 50,100-hectare area, which spans from The Needles to just south of Whakatautuna Point and out to the 12-mile limit.

DOC Auckland Conservator Rob McCallum said the proposed marine reserve area, which is two thirds the size of Tongariro National Park, was of outstanding value for its high quality habitats and marine biodiversity, and would be an asset for scientific study.

"This is a superb part of our marine environment that deserves protecting in the interests of all New Zealanders. It's got the potential to become the marine equivalent of one of our best national parks."

If successful, the reserve could be the first opportunity to study the effects of a large protected marine area on fish and other marine life, said Mr McCallum.

"With the overwhelming majority of New Zealand's sea being fished and altered, it is essential we have some no-take marine areas to help us understand what a near natural piece of sea should look like and how marine life behaves when you leave it alone."

Auckland University of Technology marine scientist Dr Steve O'Shea, who identified new sea fan or gorgonian species from video footage of reefs at 100 metres deep, said it was highly unusual to find these animals at depths of less than 650 metres.

"It's sensationally shallow to find gorgonians of this type and definitely the shallowest record anywhere in New Zealand waters. It's a unique environment - there are very few coastal deep reef areas like this off New Zealand."

The proposed area has been modified and reduced in size from that consulted on last year with the Whangapoua Estuary removed and the southern boundary moved north. Mr McCallum said the estuary, one of the most pristine in the country, was excluded as it was the only place people could collect shellfish on the island.

"We were convinced by submitters that the Whangapoua Estuary is an important food resource for Great Barrier islanders.

"But we weren't convinced by recreational fishers' claims that a marine reserve in this area would greatly interfere with their fishing activities as the area is not heavily used and there are many other places around the island and the rest of the Hauraki Gulf still available for fishing."

The marine reserve proposal represents four percent of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (the other four marine reserves in the park total less than one percent). New Zealand's marine reserves combined make up less than one percent of our vast marine environment.

People have two months from today to send in submissions in support or objection on the Aotea (Great Barrier) Marine Reserve application to the Director General of Conservation. The submission period closes on 2 October.

The Minister of Conservation will decide on the application after considering submissions, in particular, if users or adjoining landowners would be adversely affected by the marine reserve.

Copies of the Aotea (Great Barrier) Marine Reserve Application can be downloaded from www.doc.govt.nz or obtained from the Auckland Conservancy. All previous submitters will receive a copy in the mail.

ENDS


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