Hau­raki res­cue

The bru­tal de­cline in the Hau­raki Gulf’s ma­rine health over the last few decades gal­vanised an Auck­land woman to take a role in re­vers­ing the trend.

Boating NZ - - Industry Insight - Words byb Raewyn Peart Pho­tos Raewyn and Tanya Peart

My first en­counter with the Hau­raki Gulf was as child. I grew up in Hamil­ton, a long way from sea, but when I was young my fa­ther and grand­fa­ther built a sim­ple bach at Marae­tai – com­plete with long-drop and a rusty-coloured rain wa­ter sup­ply from the cor­ru­gated iron tank. I re­mem­ber get­ting up be­fore dawn, row­ing out in our old dinghy and throw­ing out a net to catch fish for break­fast.

When I was a teenager, my fa­ther de­cided to take up boat­ing and we spent many hol­i­days sailing around Gulf, right out to Great Bar­rier Is­land and down to Whanga­mata. One of the ad­van­tages of a tri­maran is that you’re very low to the wa­ter; I re­mem­ber sun­fish lazily swim­ming past and lots of sharks. I spent hours snorkelling reefs; there were so many fish and lots of sea­weed. Those ex­pe­ri­ences have stayed with me all my life.

Time moved on and I left home. I trained ini­tially as a lawyer, and for some years spe­cialised in re­source man­age­ment and large ur­ban de­vel­op­ment work. I then headed over­seas, fol­low­ing my hus­band who had taken on a job in South Africa.

What brought me be back to the Gulf was hav­ing a child of my own. I re­ally wanted to show Tanya what had helped make my child­hood so spe­cial. So about 15 years ago, we packed up and came home.

By this time my fa­ther was sailing a keeler, so we ex­plored the

old haunts and fur­ther afield. When I got un­der­wa­ter again with my mask and snorkel I was hor­ri­fied. I strug­gled to show my daugh­ter a fish; the reefs were stripped of kelp, and in places like Great Bar­rier Is­land, where there still were kelp beds, the fish were furtive or not there at all.

What had hap­pened? I didn’t ex­pect snap­per, cray­fish and other large fish to be there in the same num­bers be­cause of the heavy fish­ing pres­sure – but what about all the lit­tle fish no-one was tar­get­ing? It was as if the en­tire sys­tem had col­lapsed.

I wanted an­swers, so I started on a jour­ney to find out what was go­ing on with the Hau­raki Gulf and what we could do to fix it. The Gulf was once an ex­tra­or­di­nary place; it was full of enor­mous schools of fish, flocks of se­abirds, pods of dol­phins and enor­mous whales.

One of my favourite quotes was writ­ten by Amer­i­can author and game fish­er­man Zane Grey in 1929, fish­ing off Great Mer­cury Is­land:

Raewyn Peart is the pol­icy di­rec­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence So­ci­ety.

I feel an aching sad­ness and a deep sense of loss when I com­pare this to what we now see out in the Gulf.

In 2013 the op­por­tu­nity came up to get in­volved with Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari. To be hon­est, I was pretty re­luc­tant at the be­gin­ning. I’m es­sen­tially a writer and re­searcher; I’d never been in­volved in a process like this but I was so pas­sion­ate about the need to do some­thing I de­cided I had to give it a shot.

And it’s been an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney sit­ting around a ta­ble with a di­verse group of peo­ple try­ing to reach com­mon ground. At the start I eyed the oth­ers very sus­pi­ciously, as­sum­ing they just wanted to make more money from ex­ploit­ing the Gulf.

At the be­gin­ning, when we tried to work out what we could all agree on, we came up with the vi­sion of the Hau­raki Gulf be­com­ing pro­duc­tive and abun­dant. Ev­ery­one wanted to see the Gulf full of life again, although we weren’t all on the same page as to how we should get there.

We all agreed we needed to turn the sit­u­a­tion around within a

gen­er­a­tion and we al­ways man­aged to bring our­selves back to this vi­sion when we were tack­ling dif­fi­cult is­sues. The Hau­raki Gulf needed to come first.

These peo­ple are real com­mu­nity lead­ers be­cause en­gag­ing with this project is not for the faint-hearted. Over the three years we’ve been work­ing on the plan, we’ve de­vel­oped a strong cul­ture of trust and col­lab­o­ra­tion that has helped in­di­vid­ual mem­bers share in­for­ma­tion they would nor­mally with­hold in an ad­ver­sar­ial process.

This has helped to ground the plan in real-life ex­pe­ri­ence. The strength of the group is vi­tal as we need to be able to jointly stand be­hind it and sup­port it when it be­comes pub­lic.

I’ve fo­cused my ef­forts on ad­dress­ing the two main driv­ers of eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion in the Gulf – high lev­els of sed­i­men­ta­tion and ben­thic dis­tur­bance by fish­ing equip­ment. If the plan can ef­fec­tively ad­dress these two is­sues, we’ll see life com­ing back. If not, it will al­ways strug­gle and we will see on­go­ing de­cline.

Be­ing on Sea Change’s Stake­holder Work­ing Group (SWG) has been life-chang­ing. I’ve learnt so much from the oth­ers around the ta­ble. I’ve been in­tro­duced to the iwi world view, and its ap­proach to the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment which puts peo­ple at the heart of is­sue, with peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment be­ing part of an in­te­gral whole.

This brings real strength to process. I’ve also gained a much

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