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Seven years on, marine environment still not protected

Seven years after Rena disaster, marine environment still not protected

Forest & Bird and the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust say it’s high time the Bay of Plenty Regional Council got on with protecting the marine environment around Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty, seven years after the Rena disaster.

The Trust has been battling for decades to protect their local marine environment, and their efforts intensified following the Rena ship wreck on the nearby Otāiti/Astrolabe Reef in 2011.

Tomorrow, Friday 5 October marks seven years since the collision, yet the tiny hapū, supported by Forest & Bird, is still fighting for the protection that would allow the marine environment to recover.

Trust Project Manager Hugh Sayers explains: “The one silver lining from theRena was the exclusion zone put in place by the Harbourmaster during the salvage, which effectively prohibited fishing over a large area and allowed Tangaroa (sea deity) to heal and recover from the disaster.”

Mr Sayers says that former Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy refused to maintain the closure in April 2016, and the ecological recovery was wiped out in a few short months.

The Motiti Rohe Moana Trust asked the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to place controls over fishing there, but the Council claimed the law did not allow it to do so. Together with Forest & Bird, the Trust took court cases which resulted in a ground-breaking ruling that regional councils can use the Resource Management Act to manage fisheries to protect native biodiversity.

The Otāiti/Astrolabe Reef is among the first in line for protection, along with two other areas – one off a small reef called Motuhaku (Schooner Rocks) and the other around Motunau (Plate Island).

Forest & Bird’s regional manager Dr Rebecca Stirnemann says that the regional council was instructed by the High Court in May to create the three protected areas. It is also meant to establish a process to enable protection of other important areas in the Bay of Plenty marine environment.

“Yet the council is dragging its feet,” says Dr Stirnemann. “Meanwhile, the health of the marine environment continues to decline. The abundance that was created by the fishing exclusion zone has been lost, and now things are worse than before the Rena disaster.”

Mr Sayers says, “The Rena saga has been seven years of poor decision-making, obviously starting with errors by the Rena's Master grounding the container ship on Te Tau o Taiti (Otāiti) Astrolabe Reef in 2011, and then the failings of Maritime NZ, the Ministries for the Environment and Primary Industries, and the regional council.

Mr Sayers says when the three protected areas are put in place, the marine environment affected by the Rena grounding can finally start to recover.

“However the social and cultural effects will continue for some time - perhaps generations - and are now being heard in the Waitangi Tribunal Motiti Inquiry.”

“There are many lessons to be learned by authorities from the Rena saga."

Meanwhile, the High Court ruling that regional councils have a responsibility to protect coastal ecosystems under the RMA from the effects of fishing is being appealed to the Court of Appeal by the government.

“We continue to call on Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash to instruct MPI to drop the appeal, and allow regional councils and local communities to determine how they manage fisheries to protect their coastal taonga,” says Dr Stirnemann


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