Great Barrier Island Environmental News
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Editorial by John Ogden

Barrier residents are facing increased costs for basics such as transport, communications, housing, food and education. The resident population is currently shrinking in numbers and getting older and effectively poorer. Simultaneously, as coastal property values escalate, some asset-rich residents are sub-dividing properties and selling to off-island owners. Many of the latter have valuable expertise and experience to offer this community, but they are often dismissed as outsiders (or worse) with little to contribute to island life. Meanwhile both the Department of Conservation, and the City Council are busy with new management plans, which are so over-arching and detailed that few ratepayers, whether on- or off-island, have the time to really understand them. In these circumstances it is little wonder that some residents are crying "enough is enough" and resisting change of any sort.

The Great Barrier Island Charitable Trust (GBICT) has proposed a new future for Great Barrier Island: a future in which the bush and its native birds, lizards and insects could thrive. Many other island examples demonstrate that this could happen if we could get rid of rats, feral cats and rabbits. Such an island would have new employment opportunities, in biosecurity maintenance, outdoor education, nature tourism, and the infra-structure needed to support a re-vitalized economy. However, recent events on the island, especially the Community Board meeting of November 16th, have demonstrated strong resistance to the GBICT’s proposal to investigate World Heritage status for Great Barrier.

I’d like to clarify why the trustees decided to investigate World Heritage Status (WHS) for Great Barrier, and why we are now sorry that we did so. Many of you who voted to support our rat eradication campaign may not feel the same way about this subject. Thinking ahead towards the economic framework of a rat and feral cat free island, we wondered if WHS would revitalize the economy by putting the island "on the world map" for nature tourism, consequently getting more government support for infrastructure and services. We found that the process to achieve WH status is formal and lengthy. To begin with a site, such as Great Barrier, must be suggested for consideration, then recommended by a nominee such as Auckland City. This cannot happen without support from the community. If such support is obtained, then the Department of Conservation must prepare public discussion documents and receive submissions. This process may take years, before a recommendation is made to Cabinet. (For example, in 2005 six NZ sites were recommended and a final decision on nomination on 2 or 3 of these is still to be made). The final nominations are then put to the International World Heritage Committee, which next meets in 2007, to choose a few sites from all those nominated from around the World.

We now regret our decision to present our ideas to the Environment, Heritage and Urban Form (EHUF) sub-committee of council. Our action was interpreted by some as an attempt to circumvent the Community Board. It wasn’t – it was simply taking advantage of an opportunity to bring GBI to the notice of council. I guess it achieved that! We didn’t claim to represent the community or the Board. The result was that the EHUF committee passed a resolution to "investigate the feasibility of nominating Great Barrier Island as a world heritage site". This action was unanticipated – the Trust did not propose it. The resolution is merely a tentative first step to provide some information – it hardly constitutes a threat to life as we know it on Great Barrier. However, we recognize that our process was wrong here: the Community Board should have seen the presentation first. Perhaps it is worth saying that we are all busy people trying to do what we can when we can.

Two of our trustees were, to put it mildly, given a hard time at the Community Board meeting. Liz Westbrooke, while presenting a tabled apology to the Board for any perceived breach of protocol by the Trust, was subjected to verbal abuse. Tony Bouzaid was accused of "conflict of interest", because he is also chairperson of the Community Board. Certainly Tony was put in a difficult position when strong opposition was voiced against the GBIC Trust, and this must have made it more difficult to control the unruly public gathering. However, a conflict of interest arises when a decision is required on a matter where "a financial or other interest that could directly or indirectly compromise a person occurs during the performance of that persons duties". This was not the case. To suggest that it was is to denigrate a man who has demonstrated dedication and integrity throughout his long service to the island community.

Despite the sour note, the trustees believe that 2006 was a productive year. The GBI Environmental News has been widely read on the island, and generated healthy discussion. Two world experts gave lectures on rodent eradication. We organised three community trips to Tiritiri Matangi Island (c. 70 people in total), where the benefits of rat eradication and habitat restoration to wildlife (and tourism) are obvious. We had well-attended (65-80) open days at current pest eradication/restoration projects on Great Barrier, and commenced a community-based programme of island-wide bird monitoring (22 participants). As a spin-off from our on-going research we deposited literature on rat-eradication and the use of poisons in the Library. Last, but not least, trustees have written numerous letters to the Barrier Bulletin!

In other words, the GBICT has been active in engaging the community to think about pest eradication, conservation and nature-based tourism as a sustainable economic benefit for future development on Great Barrier.

We are in for the long haul. Best wishes for the holiday season and 2007.