Waiheke Local Board member John Meeuwsen has been elected the new Chair of the Hauraki Gulf Forum. He becomes the fourth chair in the Forum’s 18-year history, replacing Mayor John Tregidga after a term of 11 years. John Meeuwsen spoke to Our Auckland about his background, interests and aspirations for the Forum.
How long have you been a member of the Hauraki Gulf Forum, and what drew you to want to be a member of the Forum?
I was elected to the Waiheke Local Board late in 2013.
All members of our Board were newly elected, so it was a little while before we were able to see beyond the day to day issues facing the Local Board – a big learning curve.
I moved into the Waiheke Local Board seat on the Hauraki Gulf Forum in 2014 or early 2015. I was drawn to it after witnessing the steady decline in the health of the Gulf’s marine life since my first visit in 1975.
My wife’s family had a batch at Maraetai, from when it was first developed in 1924, and my children spent most holidays there starting in the 1980’s. Trips from Maraetai on the family boat took us to Waiheke, often to meet friends. That familiarisation helped me to decide to “retire” to the island in 2011.
Waiheke’s community is, of course, vitally interested in the state of the Gulf, and use its foreshore and waters frequently.
Early in our last term the Waiheke Local Board organised a ferry trip for a large number of people, including Forum members and lots of school students. They were addressed by a range of experts on the Gulf, as we circumnavigated Waiheke, and visited neighbouring islands in the Local Board’s constituency.
In 2015 we commissioned a formal survey, by Colmar Brunton, on the views of Waiheke residents and ratepayers on marine protected areas and ‘no take’ reserves. There was overwhelming support for marine reserves and for a large portion of the waters around Waiheke to be placed under protection. I hope to make this happen in my time as Chair.
What have been areas of interest and focus for you within the remit of the Forum to-date?
One of the main purposes of the Forum is to promote conservation and sustainable management of the Gulf. I have been keen to improve the Forum’s role and credibility as an advocate for the enhancement and protection of the state of the Gulf. Also to improve the poignancy of its messages on the need for action to remediate threats to its overall health.
Increasing marine reserves and Marine Protected Areas, improving water quality, and reducing the impacts of fishing will be the key focus points for the Forum going forward.
What are your hopes and expectations of the Forum over the next few years?
The scene is well set for more proactivity by the various agencies who are members of the Forum. The evidence is incontrovertible now that the Gulf is continuing to go backwards on most environmental indicators, and that pressure of population and development is increasing the challenge and urgency to act more comprehensively.
Auckland and Waikato Regional Councils have set up dedicated teams to address Gulf issues and are beefing up their 10-year plans to accommodate the expenditure needed.
The technical staff they employ to develop solutions to complex environmental issues are keen to get cracking on more systematic, co-ordinated action plans.
The Minister of Conservation is the Minister responsible for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act. The current Minister, the Hon. Eugenie Sage, has indicated that she will put greater focus on the Department of Conservation’s role in the Gulf, and to working with other Ministers with responsibilities relevant to the Gulf.
The Government has established dedicated Fisheries and Biosecurity agencies which should strengthen its ability to respond to challenges and remediation.
I hope to use the skills I have of gained from chairing boards and in management, to contribute to achieving better “integrated management” among the agencies involved.
This is a core reason for the existence of the Forum.