The Earthquake Commission is funding research to improve the understanding of known and potential faults in the Hauraki Rift; a geological area running through the Auckland and Waikato regions including the Hauraki Gulf, Firth of Thames and Hauraki Plains.
“The Christchurch earthquakes highlighted the need to research and better understand slower moving geological structures that have the potential to pose a significant natural hazard risk to high population areas and infrastructure,” says University of Auckland’s Dr Jennifer Eccles who will lead an team of international researchers.
A Hauraki Gulf / Tikapa Moana marine spatial plan launched in December after three years work by a stakeholder working group is available on the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari project website.
The proposed plan contains five pathways designed to create long-term health and wellbeing for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Transitions to high value wild caught and farmed fisheries, the creation of marine reserves areas and scaled up restoration initiatives, setting load limits and mitigation for sediment and nutrients, local-scale coastal management and ambitious public engagement are outlined in the December issue of the Gulf Journal.
DOC, Motuihe Trust and Yamaha are trailing weed control with an unmanned helicopter.
Weed control on cliff faces can be very expensive often requiring carrying heavy loads to remote places and abseiling or a helicopter.
The RMAX helicopters are piloted by remote control and used in a wide range of industrial and research applications overseas. The trial was a success and the team have plans to further improve the precision of the technology.
NIWA scientists are asking for help from people who have had a long association with the Hauraki Gulf.
They are researching the areas where juvenile fish have congregated to find out how these nursery environments have changed over the years.
NIWA marine ecologist Dr Mark Morrison says they are particularly interested in populations of juvenile snapper, less than 10cm long in coastal waters.
He says young fish are strongly associated with what’s on the seafloor, especially seagrass meadows, horse mussel beds and sponge gardens.
Historical photographs, personal field diaries or fishing logs would be particularly valuable to document environmental change.
A computer model will be built to enable the researchers to explore ‘what if’ scenarios to help decide on the best management actions for the future.
Recent surveys have shown crayfish numbers declining inside and outside marine reserves at Leigh and Tawharanui.
Dr Nick Shears, a marine biologist at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, says crayfish numbers in the reserves are down a further 25 percent from 2014.
Numbers outside the reserve are the lowest they have been since monitoring began in the 1990s. Biomass is estimated to be <5 percent of unfished levels.
Earlier this year scientists released figures showing crayfish numbers inside Goat island reserve were lower than when it was established in 1975 and less than a quarter of their 1990s peak.
Dr Shears attributes the decline to fishing pressure on reserve boundaries, a lack of recruitment and high fishing pressure in the CRA2 fishery.
He has advocated a case for extending the offshore boundary of the reserves to protect resident animals throughout their home range.
It will set up a new public-private partnership company by 2017 to help fund large-scale predator eradication programmes.
Predator Free New Zealand Limited will have a board of directors made up of government, private sector, and scientific players. The board’s job will be to work on regional projects with iwi and community conservation groups and attract $2 of private sector and local government funding for every $1 of government funding.
The Biological Heritage National Science Challenge will have an important role in achieving the predator free goal, as not all the technology to get rid of possums, rats and stoats exists.
Auckland University of Technology researchers have used drones to capture footage of whales feeding in the Gulf.
Post-graduate students Ticiana Fetterman and Lorenzo Fiori used a custom-built multi-rotor drone to film a Bryde’s whale lunging after prey, accompanied by a young calf.
Dr Barbara Bollard Breen, the students’ supervisor, says “drones could be a useful addition to boat surveys, for scientists who are studying the foraging behaviour of this critically threatened species.”
Around 50 Bryde’s whales are resident in the Gulf.
Snapper longline fishers in northern New Zealand want to show the public that their operations are not putting seabirds at risk and have recently taken part in the trial of on-board cameras, which they hope will help them prove this.
A recent trial on a vessel that fishes for Aotearoa Fisheries found that cameras can detect around 90% of seabirds caught on snapper longline hooks.
The video trial, which used woven flax seabirds attached to the fishing line, was funded by Department of Conservation.
The Black Petrel Working Group, facilitated by Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust, is developing a proposal for Government to enable the trial to be expanded to a larger pilot programme.
Monitoring at Goat Island Marine Reserve shows that numbers of crayfish and snapper are now lower than when the reserve was established in 1975.
Following the creation of the reserve, numbers of crayfish recovered quickly, increasing four-fold in number by the 1990s with snapper also becoming bigger and more common.
Leigh Marine Laboratory’s Dr Nick Shears attributed the decline to fishing on the reserve boundaries and the state of the wider fishery and said the pattern is similar at marine reserves at Tawharanui and Hahei.
He said that the reserve boundaries needed to be extended seaward to protect resident animals and to safeguard the scientific and recreational values of the marine reserves.
Marine conservation pioneer Dr Bill Ballantine passed away in November.
Forum Chairman John Tregidga said “Bill was instrumental in creating our marine reserves legislation and one of the world’s first marine reserves at Leigh, where he lived, despite considerable opposition at the time. His legacy is
a much greater understanding and appreciation of the importance, functioning and vulnerability of
our marine environment.”
He attended the announcement of the Kermadec Sanctuary and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Seminar in the weeks prior to his death. He was 78.
Water quality and ecosystem health in the Firth of Thames is examined in a new report commissioned by Waikato Regional Council and Dairy NZ.
The NIWA report concludes that the Firth has shifted trophic state – from oligotrophic to mesotrophic – since deforestation of the Coromandel ranges and drainage of the Hauraki Plains over the last century and a half and is vulnerable to nutrient enrichment.
Riverine nitrogen inputs are stable or have increased slowly over the past 20 years, but measurements of dissolved inorganic nitrogen in the middle of the Gulf have increased by 5.1 percent per year over the same period, suggesting changes to inputs or nitrogen cycling in the system.
Mud flats are extending ten times faster than other North Island estuaries. About 40 percent of the sediment is from rivers; the rest re-deposited sediment created by historical disturbance.
The report, and new research and monitoring resulting from it, will help inform proposed plan changes over the next few years.