The first marine spatial plan for New Zealand, which applies to the Hauraki Gulf was launched last night at an event in Auckland. The plan has been developed by a collaborative stakeholder working group, representing key interests, and provides a roadmap for restoring the Gulf to a healthy, abundant and productive marine area.
At the heart of the plan is the need to restore healthy habitats and water quality to support abundant marine life including fisheries as well as taonga, such as seabirds and marine mammals. The plan includes several initiatives to achieve this, including:
Transitioning trawling, dredging and Danish seining out of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. These fishing methods can cause additional damage to seabed habitats, they remobilise sediment, and they prevent recovery from historic loss.
Setting catchment-based sediment and nutrient limits and deploying a range of tools to modify land use and re-engineer natural systems so that they can be met.
Removing harvest pressure from some areas through the establishment of Type 1 MPAs and seabed-damaging activities from additional areas through Type 2 MPAs.
Scaling up efforts to actively restore marine habitats including through shellfish and seaweed restoration, habitat creation and the like.
The plan also supports increased abundance of marine life through a series of actions such as reviewing harvest levels of priority species, protecting vulnerable species from over-harvesting, decreasing mortality of under-sized fish, reducing pressures on threatened species and addressing marine biosecurity risks.
The plan provides support for marine-related industries including Aquaculture, through the provision of suitable marine space for growth; Commercial Fishing, through support for a high value, low impact industry; and Tourism and Recreation, through improved abundance, access, place-based management and visitor strategies. In particular, the plan supports Recreational Fishing through increasing the abundance and local availability of fish.
In addition, the plan seeks to inspire local communities through engaging hearts and minds, embracing volunteering and expanding marine education.
Underpinning the plan is the need for strengthened management and governance arrangements. These include the establishment of:
Ahu Moana local management areas, jointly managed by mana whenua and local communities.
Fisheries Management Area for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and a Multi-stakeholder Fisheries Advisory Group to provide recommendations directly to the Minister.
A new overarching Governance Entity that embraces co-governance and will champion the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and the implementation of the plan.
The removal of indigenous forest cover from most of the land draining into the Hauraki Gulf has resulted in around five times more sediment entering the marine area. After heavy rain it is common to see plumes of sediment billowing out from river mouths where they meet the sea.
Current major causes of sediment are earthworks, forestry harvesting and grazing of steep erodible land. Erosion of river banks is another significant source.
This increase in sediment has been accompanied by the expansion of mangroves in many estuaries around the Hauraki Gulf and most markedly in the Firth of Thames.
High levels of sedimentation can fundamentally change the marine environment. Sediment reduces water clarity and can result in the loss of species reliant on photosynthesis such as seagrass and seaweeds.
Murky water can make it harder for juvenile fish such as snapper to find prey and reduce their ability to survive. The sediment can also cause their gills to deform.
Particles in the water can make it difficult for filter feeders such as cockles, pipi and scallops to feed efficiently and it reduces the survival chances of larvae and juvenile shellfish.
Overall, high levels of sedimentation reduce the abundance and diversity of species and the ability of the marine system to support productive fisheries.
“I’ve seen water going past the Whitianga wharf yellow with clay from what appeared to be forestry runoff.”
“Every time we have a Coromandel downpour, if you stand up on Shakespeare Cliff, you see an enormous brown plume coming down the Purangi and Whitianga rivers and flowing right out into the bay.”
Rākino Island was ostensibly purchased from Ngāi Tai and Ngāti Paoa and others in 1840 by Scottish trader and boat-builder Thomas Maxwell. Sir George Grey purchased the island in 1862 and began building a mansion on it. However he subsequently became more enamoured with Kawau Island and moved his residence there never actually living on Rākino.
During the Waikato War, a group of Māori headed by Ihaka Takanini were interned on the island in 1863 in a place that, as a result, came to be called Māori Bay.
Fisherman Albert Sanford and his wife Ann based themselves on the island for many years and their son Gilbert farmed the island until 1946, mainly running sheep.
In 1963 the island was bought by the United People’s Organisation which planned to develop it as ‘a retreat from the rush of modern life’. There were plans to develop homes for unmarried mothers, orphans and the aged. However the initiative ran out of money and Dr Maxwell Rickard, the proponent of the scheme then offered the entire island for sale to the Auckland City Council at a price little more than what he had paid for it. But sadly the Council declined.
Rickard then subdivided the island largely into 4 hectare lots, with 2 residential suburbs created, called Marine Park and Ocean View.
Leo Dromgool, the owner of North Shore Ferries, bought about two-thirds of the island at auction with ideas of turning it into a resort-type destination that he could service with his ferries. But he also got into financial difficulties and he further subdivided the land. When North Shore Ferries was purchased by George Hudson, the land was sold to help finance the commissioning of the Quick Cat ferries.
Today the island is largely privately owned and there are around 76 dwellings with approximately 15 people living full time on the island.
“You fall in love with Rākino Island. You really feel you’ve visited somewhere when you visit Rākino.”
Scientists have identified an ‘ecological bottleneck’ in the ability of juvenile snapper to survive into adulthood. Research has shown that young snapper prefer three-dimensional habitats on the seafloor, particularly seagrass meadows but also horse mussel and sponge beds. It is not known why these areas are preferred, but it is thought that they provide a good source of food, protection from predators and shelter from seawater currents (reducing the need to expend energy to swim against them).
If there is not sufficient area of these habitats available, particularly in places close to important spawning areas, then this creates an ‘ecological bottleneck’ and the survival rate of juvenile snapper is likely to be lower. This has a flow on effect for fish stocks as it reduces the number of snapper that are recruited into the fishable adult population.
In the Hauraki Gulf, the majority of these habitats have been lost over the past 170 years, through a combination of increased levels of sediment and other pollutants entering the marine area from land, and direct damage from reclamation, harbour works, trawling and dredging. Habitat loss is still occurring in important fish nursery areas such as the Mahurangi Harbour.
The Waitematā harbour was once host to enormous seagrass (Zostera) beds which played a crucial role in providing habitat for juvenile fish. However the extensive harbour works, including port development and reclamations, had considerably reduced the seagrass beds by the 1930s. Then the remaining areas were virtually wiped out during the 1940s by an outbreak of fungal slime.
The Tāmaki Strait was also an area with hosted seagrass beds. The steam trawler Doto, chartered by the government to do exploratory trawling in the Hauraki Gulf during 1901, found a net they hauled up after trawling along the Tāmaki Strait full of ‘grass and weeds’, indicating the extensive seagrass beds in the area.
A major cause of seagrass loss is sediment from land development washing into the sea. When the health of a harbour or estuary deteriorates, seagrass is one of the first things to be lost. And with the seagrass beds goes part of the ability of the marine system to produce fish.
“If the sub tidal seagrass is lost, then juvenile fish production goes with it. It has a cascade effect.”
One of the few places with remaining seagrass beds in the Gulf is Huruhi Harbour at Great Mercury Island.
On 1 May 1860 an 80-foot long paddle steamer, Emu, started to offer a regular ferry service between Devonport and the CBD. Prior to that time, North Shore residents were reliant on an open sailing ferry boat to get to the city, which had to be rowed by the passengers when winds were light.
The Emu‘s service in the Waitematā harbour was unfortunately short-lived. On 20 October 1860, she was hired by Motutapu Island owner Robert Graham to take a party of Parliamentarians to his home on the island for a picnic. Fifty-five people turned out for the event and had an exciting day, feasting on ‘turkey, chicken, duck, ham, tongues, beef, tarts and pies’ and playing a variety of games including throwing stones at bottles, running races and leap frog.
On the way home disaster struck when the ferry came to pick up a group who had walked back to the southern end of the island near Islington Bay. As the ferry neared land a squall hit and the vessel came to a juddering halt. Water rushed into the bilges and it was clear that Emu had hit a rock. Luckily there were no casualties but the ferry was a complete wreck.
The rock on which the steamer hit, the bay where the disaster occurred and the nearby point have all been named in memory of Auckland’s first ferry (Emu Rock, Emu Bay and Emu Point respectively).
Snapper is the predominant fish species in the Hauraki Gulf and it is also one of the most widely studied fish species in New Zealand. Snapper are slow growing and long lived, potentially reaching up to 60 years of age and 17 kilograms in weight.
The adult fish are extremely productive. They spawn many times over the warm summer months, with smaller fish producing tens of thousands of eggs and larger fish producing several million eggs, each season. The older fish are therefore important for their spawning potential. As well as producing many more eggs, their eggs are larger, which likely improves the survival and growth of their offspring.
Recent research has identified a significant difference between snapper that live around shallow rocky reefs and those that live further afield. The reef-based snapper appear to be largely residential and therefore they are susceptible to being fished out of local areas. In contrast, snapper that live over soft areas of seabed range much larger distances and are therefore more resilient to localised depletion. This suggests that fishing off reefs should be undertaken with care.
One of the most direct threats to a healthy snapper population in the Gulf is overfishing. It is thought that harvesting reduced the snapper population to as little as 10 per cent of its original size in 1988, before it increased to around 24 per cent in 2010, and then again went into decline.
Habitat degradation from sedimentation and bottom disturbing fishing practices such as trawling have also likely affected the ability of the snapper population to rebound. This is due to the loss of habitats such as sea grass, shellfish beds and sponge and coral gardens which enable juvenile fish to survive into adulthood.
Humpback whales used to regularly pass through the Hauraki Gulf during their migrations from Antarctica to the tropics and back. Whalers named them ‘humpback’ because of the way the animals arch their back before diving, which profiles the hump around their dorsal fin.
The relative abundance of whales in the Gulf led to the establishment of a shore whaling station in Whangaparapara Harbour, Great Barrier Island, in 1956. Two specially-built petrol-engined chasers, fitted out with harpoons, were used to catch the whales. The whales were then towed back to the factory and cut up into hunks to be boiled down. The oil was skimmed off the top of the liquid for sale and the solids were processed into blood and bone fertiliser. The baleen was dumped at sea. Some of the higher quality whalemeat was sold to restaurants in Auckland.
The 1960 season proved the most profitable with 135 whales caught. But then the population crashed and the whaling station was closed 2 years later. As well as being hunted in the Gulf and elsewhere around New Zealand the whales had been targeted in Antarctica by Japanese, Russian and Norwegian factory whaling ships. The remains of the old whaling station can still be seen in Whangaparapara harbour.
It was many years before humpback whales were seen around New Zealand’s coasts in any numbers. But now that the hunting of the whales has stopped, we are likely to see many more of these magnificent animals frequenting the Gulf again.
It was not until crayfish became scare around the shores of the Hauraki Gulf that they obtained any real commercial value. Before World War Two crayfish were everywhere and could be easily harvested amongst the rocky reefs close to Auckland.
“Initially there were sacks coming off Waiheke and North Head. Fishermen didn’t need to travel to get crayfish … the problem wasn’t lack of crayfish. They were everywhere … After the war, crayfish were worth very little, something like thruppence a pound.”
Then things changed. New equipment, such as echo sounders, enabled crayfishermen to locate new reefs to target. Improved gear such as winches enabled fishermen to lift many more pots a day and larger boats enabled them to travel further afield. Once the export market opened up for live crayfish in Japan very high prices could be obtained, reaching over $80 a kilo. This incentivised continued crayfishing even when catch rates plummeted. Recreational divers also target crayfish increasing pressure on the stocks.
“Now catch rates are so poor, at only around a third of a kilo per pot, that crayfishermen are reliant on high prices to survive.”
Scientific models suggest that, prior to human arrival, crayfish were the third most ecologically important benthic invertebrate group in the Hauraki Gulf. However, the impact of fishing activity since then has been so great that they are now considered to be ecologically extinct. Stocks are probably less than a quarter of their original levels.
There has been poor recruitment of crayfish into the Hauraki Gulf over the past 6 or so years, and this has exacerbated stock depletion, as a high level of fishing activity has continued during this period.
This has had flow on effects throughout the food web, as crayfish prey on sea urchins which in turn graze on kelp. When the number of crayfish in a system is reduced, the sea urchin numbers rapidly increase due to a lack of predation and they end up stripping the kelp off the rocks. This results in ‘kina barrens’ which are depauperate of reef life. This is why it is important that crayfish stocks are rebuilt to ensure healthy reef systems throughout the Hauraki Gulf.
Some of the earliest baches in the Hauraki Gulf were constructed on the lava-strewn shores of Rangitoto Island. The island was purchased from Ngāti Paoa in 1854 primarily as a source of stone for the construction of Auckland. In 1890 the island was declared a recreational reserve. The Rangitoto Island Domain Board took over administration of the island and pursued a policy of opening up the island for pubic enjoyment. This involved the construction of a wharf on the southern side (Rangitoto Wharf) and the development of a track to the summit.
In 1911 the Domain Board started to lease out sites for campers in order to raise funds to cover the costs of administering the island. Eventually baches were built on the sites, with over 140 baches being built at 3 locations; adjacent to the Rangitoto Wharf, in Islington Bay and in McKenzie Bay near the Rangitoto Light. Vibrant holiday communities developed around the baches with families spending the entire summer school holidays there.
Isobel Conning (nee Simmons) remembers wonderful times at her family bach in Islington Bay before World War Two. “At night the bay would be full of yachts and launches. They were so numerous that you could almost walk across the bay on boats. Then someone, on one of the boats, would start up with a mouth organ. Someone else, in another boat, would follow. The crews would start singing and then people on the shore would join in.”
“One Islington Bay bach owner, Jock Loch, was noted for his unusual fishing methods. Wanting to fish from the comfort of his verandah he rigged up a line around a couple of pulleys, with one end attached to the outside of his house, and the other anchored in the sea. After baiting up his hooks, he would wind them down into the tide, tying a bell onto the rope, so that he would be alerted if there was a bite. He would then wind the line back up to his house, with the fish attached.”
By the 1920s there was disquiet about the impact of the baches on the island’s unique ecology. By 1937 a policy of gradually removing the baches had been adopted with owners being given 20 years to vacate and remove the structures. In 1957, when the 20 year time period had expired, there was a reprieve when the remaining bach owners were granted a new lease for 33 years or the lifetime of the current owner. As the owners gradually reached the end of their lives, the baches started disappearing from the landscape.
Currently some 34 baches remain on Rangitoto Island. Rather than being seen as a blot on the landscape their historical and cultural value has now been recognised. But their future is still uncertain.
A Celebration of Our Association with this Remarkable Place