Editorial - A bright new year ahead

by John Ogden



It’s a beautiful blue day on Great Barrier. The sea is calm and I should be out there fishing! Three snapper would be enough, one for dinner, one for later, and one for our friends. I have no problems with the new bag limits, but the issue for the Barrier is commercial exploitation, which may be damaging stocks of several fish species and the ecosystem of which they are an integral part. The Hauraki Gulf Spatial Marine Plan (“Sea Change”) has been launched (see: seachangefaq.pdf on Auckland Council website). A stakeholder group has been formed, and I hope it carries some weight. The Trust was unable to attend either of the two meetings (Auckland and Thames). However, public consultation is scheduled for 2014 and we should all be prepared to put a “Barrier view” because, unlike most of those involved, we live embedded within the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Likewise we will soon all be living adjacent to the Aotea Conservation Park (“DOC Estate”), which might not change our lives much but is further recognition of the high ecological value of the Island.

The EcoTas conference, involving seven hundred ecologists from New Zealand and Australia is in Auckland in late November. We offered a pre-conference field trip to Great Barrier, but got few takers – probably due to the high transport cost compared with alternative field trips. After the conference there will be private visits from several ecologists, and I’m sure they will be blown away by the place. The Island – its beaches, wetlands and forest cover – is just stunning at this time of year. The ecologists will comment on the extent of forest regeneration (absence of possums, mustelids, goats and deer), the ‘alternative’ life-styles and the obvious presence of some endangered species. We who live here have much to be thankful for - and 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for environmental decision-making.

The new Local Board is well balanced in terms of representation, and there is also a carry-over of knowledge and experience. It has yet to have a meeting of the Environment Committee, but we are hopeful that they’ll take up the Trust’s case for community consultation. We have pressed for three years for a robust process in which future scenarios for the Island are discussed, costed and acted upon. The discussion must include the future of the natural ecosystems on which our life-styles rest. The economic aspects of transport, infrastructure and land values will be important, and keeping a viable young population will be paramount, but we also need to value the environment just as we value our social and economic wellbeing.

I recently came across the following:
“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done. 
Then they begin to hope that it can be done. 
Then they see it can be done. 
Then it is done and the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago”
(Frances Hodgson Burnett)

With regard to pests (I had to mention them) I’d say that the trustees are on line three, but most Barrierites are probably at line one or two. The Department of Conservation has announced plans to eradicate rodents from Rakitu, which is far enough away from Aotea that rats won’t be able to swim back. So we can look forwards to re-introductions of lost species there and new sea-bird colonies on the cliffs. Hopefully some form of marine protection will also be put in place for the surrounding reefs and the decimated Hapuka population.

The trust commissioned a study of tomtits and kakariki on Hirakimata last summer (Environmental News # 30, Winter 2013; Asher Cook’s report). This sort of work not only provides useful employment for a student, it also adds to the data-base on which to plan conservation actions. We are thinking of a project on feral cats for our next sponsored research. Feral cats are abundant throughout the Island. The food-web they control (as top predator) involves other pests (rabbits, rats) but also significant rare native biota (skinks, petrels, brown teal etc.). A study of this interactive situation is essential before any extensive pest eradication campaign is planned, and is long overdue.

You would think that all these conservation initiatives in 2014 (the marine planning, Aotea Conservation Park and Rakitu to name only three) would generate some income for Islanders, but this doesn’t seem to be the case! On the contrary, DOC has hugely cut Barrier staff and those that remain are over-worked. Conservation is still based largely on voluntary effort from the public. That is all very well for retirees, but younger people need to be obtaining income from sustaining the natural environment and biodiversity. This involvement, and partnerships with commercial enterprises, seems good in principle, but without long-term commitment to bold visions the tide of biodiversity decline will not be turned.

I promised not to end on doom and gloom, and indeed I do not feel that! As I said – it is a wonderful summers day with shining cuckoos singing and snapper still swimming in the sea. With the Conservation Management Strategy, the new Conservation Park in place, and partnership with Iwi, it is now possible to cautiously envisage the return of kokako to Te Paparahi within a decade. With the new Local Board and renewed national interest in the Island, Barrier is rapidly moving ahead in terms of conservation awareness. Prospects for economic growth based on sustainable use of the Island’s unique ecology and glorious environment are growing.

Environmental News Issue 32 Summer 2013