Great Barrier's Environmental Strategy
and Planning Initiative

by Richard Somerville-Ryan

Why did we set up the Great Barrier Environmental Strategy and Planning Committee?

Setting up a full committee to concentrate on environmental issues was a major commitment for the Great Barrier Local Board. There were four key reasons for this initiative. First it recognizes that environmental issues are among the most important on the Board’s agenda. Second, it ensures that the Board commits serious dedicated time to these issues. Third, it ensures that the resources we commit will not be done in an ad hoc or reactive way; and finally it gives a greater level of local leadership to the environmental debate that the Barrier attracts.

So, what have we achieved so far?

In spite of the grandiose title, a lot of our work so far has been focused on projects, but we’ve gradually been bringing these within a more long-term approach.

Tryphena Harbour Weed research.

We’ve set up an isotope analysis study to try to determine the causes of this major problem. If it’s caused by local pollution we can take action; if it’s a wider regional problem we will have access to the relevant governing bodies to advocate on facts not opinions.

Private projects

Auckland City’s Heritage Fund is now controlled by the Local Board. Past recipients have continued to receive funding, and the board has also gone into the wider community to look for projects on private land that will have a positive general environmental impact. Most recently these have been targeted on riparian planting in sensitive waterways.

Beach and Dune Restoration

At Kaitoke we achieved funding for an infrastructure project (preventing erosion at the Claris airfield) and at the same time enhanced the dune area of one of the most sensitive beaches in the country. Beach restoration is frustrating — one storm can destroy six years’ work, but the alternative is not attractive — no beach and no airfield.

Kaitoke Fire Restoration

The fire was a major crisis, but has presented us with a great opportunity. The ESP committee took the lead in bringing the Dept. of Conservation and the Council together to work on a long-term restoration and enhancement programme in this devastated area.

Black Petrel Research

The Board committed funding to aid in Black Petrel Research. The allocation will be made for GPS and depth assessment equipment in the coming summer research season.

Predator and Pest Control

We would all like to get rid of every rat, feral cat, and every rabbit from the island. And beyond that point of agreement, debate begins and the harmony breaks down; our challenge is whether and how we can achieve that in a way which is acceptable to the island community. We’re now working up proposals to bring the community into a broader pest management project. The committee has also decided to fund a trial of the new “Spitfire” rat control technology. The Board has increased funding to predator control at entry points to the island – the wharves and airfields, and is extending these measures wider to private and informal entry points. We are also funding increased rabbit control measures, and are monitoring the kauri die-back initiatives being coordinated by DOC.

Strategy and Planning

Two large ‘strategic issues’ got the committee off to a challenging start: Marine Protection and Environmental Consultation for the Island. But, other large strategic issues are taking considerable thought and time, including Waste Minimisation and Regional Funding proposals.

Marine Protection and Planning

The last proposals for setting up a large marine reserve on the North-East coast of the Barrier were a pretty good example of how not to get an environmental project across the line in our community. We agreed any new initiative had to be locally-driven, open to wide public consultation and very carefully thought through. We weren’t given a lot of time to ponder. Auckland Council decided it needed to prepare a Marine Spatial Plan. We brought representatives of Ngati Rehua onto the working party to guide this process, and they will be a critical part of our deliberations. For us the current Marine Protection consultation exercise is a two-fold opportunity. First we need to know what our community wants in the way of enhanced marine protection; what it will support, and what mechanisms will work. Second, as part of a wider advocacy role, our board reps will have a strong mandate when they go into discussions on any regional plan marine spatial plan.

Environmental Consultation The GBICT has made its views known very strongly. There’s wide agreement on general issues on the committee, and the positions are not markedly different from the trust’s. However, the board has to battle for every dollar it gets, and very general proposals are usually the first to be chopped when we are instructed to get our budget down to a ‘fiscal envelope’. We’re still trying, and have had several budgetary planning and scoping meetings, so this is really work and debate in progress.

Regional versus Local Funding Our view is that the island’s environmental issues are too big to have to rely on even the current generous level of local funding. We have fewer than 1500 ratepayers. DOC’s resources are nationally constrained and regionally stretched; we have a unique environment with many iconic, rare and endangered species, and we have a lot of regional understanding and empathy. We need access to a larger pool of regional funding for important local projects.

Waste Minimisation

From the start of its term the Board has been working on waste minimization. There are two driving principles. First, this is a matter of environmental good practice, and second we want to extend the life of the Claris landfill.

I think establishing the committee was the right move. The public response to the marine protection consultation process suggests our community wants the opportunity to participate in focused initiatives, and the committee has provided the focus and forum for that.