Earlier this month, members of the Hauraki Gulf Forum had the privilege of spending a day on The Noises – Otata – in the Hauraki Gulf. The Neureuter family, who own the islands, hosted members of the Forum, the Waiheke Local Board, Auckland Museum, Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust, Foundation North and Sandford to discuss conservation issues.
The family are very involved in weed and pest control efforts. In 1960, Maria Island, a smaller outlying island in the group, was the first offshore island in New Zealand – and the world – to be returned to being predator-free through pest eradication programmes involving many volunteers. The other islands have been made largely predator-free since the 1980s. The land and bush have recovered and regenerated. This has provided a safer breeding ground for the seabirds and a safer refuge for whetapunga and geckos.
However, the marine environment around the islands has deteriorated significantly. The family have observed with their own eyes the decline in what was once an abundant marine life – the maomao have gone, the sprats, the yellow-eyed mullet and the pipers have gone. The family talk of how low tide used to include the sound of scattering crayfish and crabs. It no longer does.
The intertidal pools still provide reasonably safe refuge, providing now rare viewing opportunities for rock-pool dwelling creatures. Recently commissioned marine surveys around the islands are giving weight to the important link between the presence and numbers of seabirds and the health of and relative abundance in the marine environment.
The aspirations of the Neureuter family are to work in partnership with tangata whenua to establish marine protection around the Noises group of islands to improve the mauri, life-giving capacity and abundance.
Collaboration will be the answer. When we’re talking about ecosystems – we are all connected – the Neureuter family cannot do it on their own, and nor are they trying to. They are building the relationships and support necessary to define the appropriate marine protection framework for this wonderful environment.
The primary purpose of the Forum is to promote the conservation and sustainable management of the Gulf. Increasing marine protected areas, improving water quality, and reducing the impacts of fishing are key focus areas for the Forum’s work in the year ahead.
As the Forum’s new Chairperson, I would welcome the opportunity to meet you in person at our annual Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Seminar, at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on Wednesday 5th September. We’ll hear from speakers including Jamie McDell and Paula Morris that have drawn inspiration from the Gulf in their creative pursuits, as well as hear from scientists and biologists who are active in restoration efforts. Although human impact is the source of many of the Hauraki Gulf’s problems, like the Neureuter family, we can all act as kaitiaki for our precious Hauraki Gulf and secure a healthier, enriched future for it – and ourselves.