State of the Environment Report 2010

Completed just in time! – by John Ogden


The Great Barrier Island State of Environment Report (SOER) – a major project for the GBICT trustees in 2009 – was completed and ‘launched’ in February 2010. The timing, as it turned out, could not have been better. In the same month the Department of Conservation announced probable major cut-backs to its staff at Port FitzRoy, while the National Government leaked its intention to make a ‘stocktake’ of the mineral potential beneath previously protected lands in National Parks and elsewhere. As one of the areas earmarked for potential mining was Te Ahumata (Whitecliffs) on Great Barrier Island, both these issues had strong implications for the future economy and environment of the island. Also, in both cases, the SOER was immediately relevant, providing information on the significance of the endangered species, and the relatively high biodiversity and unspoiled environment, of Great Barrier Island.

It is clear that conservation and the unique biota of New Zealand are under threat from the National Government. Cut backs to DOC are only the tip of the ice-berg – but it seems bizarre that an island which is recognised in the Conservation Management Strategy as one of the key conservation areas near Auckland and “the jewel of the Hauraki Gulf” should be singled out for reduction in administrative priority. Loss of half-a-dozen jobs in the north of Great Barrier Island may not seem important in Wellington, but it has repercussions for all aspects of the economy and social structure of the small community there. The Trust made a strong submission on this to the Minister of Conservation, local MPs, and the Auckland Conservator.

The schedule 4 ‘stock-take’ breaks a deal with the New Zealand public. Land covered in native ecosystems, uninhabited and largely untouched by man, is an increasingly rare commodity worldwide. Schedule 4 was created to protect New Zealand’s exceptional places from inappropriate developments with large environmental impacts, such as mining.

And, in creating Schedule 4, there was also an understanding of the growing role of international tourism in the New Zealand economy, and the role such places played in the furtherance of this, and in propagating a ‘clean-green’ international image. Great Barrier Island epitomises this image.

At a meeting hosted by the Community Board in Claris in April, it was good to see and hear the clarity and vehemence with which some 200 residents rejected the so called ‘stock-take’ and demanded that Te Ahumata be left untouched. The message was that past exploitation has brought few lasting benefits to the island, and that Te Ahumata should remain as a magnificent and accessible area for the enjoyment of current and future residents. The importance of the environment is clearly understood when it comes to the obvious industrial impacts of mining, toxic waste, and tailings disposal. The economic benefits were clearly seen as small and of no consequence compared to the potential for long-term damage. It is perhaps a pity that the devastating impacts of rats and feral cats on our ecosystems are not so clearly understood, nor are the possible long-term sustainable economic benefits of a pest-free status recognised. However, on the mining issue at least the Trust found itself in total agreement with the majority of islanders. If the Community Board was split before that meeting, it could have no doubt where it should stand to support the community after it. And, to her credit, the National MP for Auckland, Nikki Kaye, was also highly supportive of the no-mining lobby.

The Ministry of Economic Development Discussion Paper, entitled “Maximising our Mineral Potential” is pathetically weak – a poorly disguised attempt to fool people into thinking that mining will bring economic – and conservation (!) – gains from mineral royalties. The actual conservation information in the document is so scant that it confirms the extent to which the Department has been side-lined. For example, the ‘Conservation Value’ of Te Ahumata receives four (unreferenced) sentences.

The Trust made a strong eleven page submission, based on factual evidence about the endangered plants, birds and reptiles occurring, or probably occurring, on Te Ahumata. We also analysed the geological
and economic basis for the claimed value of the mineral deposits on the island, and found them to be inadequate or flawed. We drew particular attention to the question of the disposal of the waste rock (tailings), and the risks to water quality and the Kaitoke Swamp ecosystem.

However, the protests, including the 40,000 people marching in Auckland on May Day, have left many residents thinking that mining will never occur on Great Barrier. I do not share that complacency, and I urge all of you who are opposed to mining to make your voice known in Wellington, especially to Nikki Kaye. Web addresses are listed at the end of this piece.

Having the factual back-up of the SOER the Trust felt in a much stronger position to comment on the above issues. Moreover, the launch of the SOER, at the 10th Anniversary celebrations of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park on Motutapu in February (See page 13) brought us into positive contact with other bodies involved in the care of the Hauraki Gulf environment. As a consequence of these contacts with the Hauraki Gulf Forum at the Symposium on the Hauraki Gulf, and the Auckland Conservation Board one of our key recommendations – the need for a full-scale feasibility study of rat and feral cat eradication on Great Barrier – was endorsed by both bodies. We also made a verbal presentation to the Great Barrier Island Community Board, and we will continue to work with the community towards the aim of a pest free island.

Many environmental issues – toxin use in biodiversity protection, the role of DOC as an employee on the island, the effects of a possible mine on Te Ahumata – have been to the fore this summer. Strong views have been expressed on both sides of these debates, but some common ground is discernable. The Community Board has been active in facilitating
discussion. The trust welcomes this – it has had a voice on all these issues. The community now has a substantial document to be used for the advocacy and environmental protection of Great Barrier Island and a sustainable future for its community. Once again the Trust wishes to express its thanks to everyone who helped with it.

References

The Ministry of Economic Development Discussion Paper: www.med.govt.nz/schedule4
30 Seconds submission against mining on Great Barrier: www.greatbarrieris.co.nz
Great Barrier Island State of Environment Report on line: www.gbict.co.nz
Nikki Kaye (Nat. MP. Auckland central): nikki.kaye@parliament.govt.nz
Original document: Great Barrier Island State of Environment Report 2010
Full Report: Great Barrier Island Charitable Trust website