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Friends of Hauraki Gulf newsletter - New marine reserve, Dead seals in Gulf and more

by Friends of the Hauraki Gulf 22 Nov 2021 14:01 PST
Friends of the Hauraki Gulf - October 2021 newsletter © Andy Spence

Friends of the Hauraki Gulf

Photo Andy Spence

E-newsletter October 2021

Hakaimango-Matiatia Marine Reserve application to go formal
in January 2022

After recent discussions with DOC, the committee of the Friends of the Hauraki Gulf has now set a date, 15 January 2022, for the formal notification of its application for the Hakaimango-Matiatia Marine Reserve.

This extends the pre-notification consultation period by a further 12 weeks to allow for Covid-related communication challenges, the Christmas break and more time for DOC to finalise a joint hui with the differing arms of Ngti Paoa. Of course once the application is formally notified, consultation then becomes formal and statutory under the Marine Reserves Act (1971). From that point for two months the public will able to lodge their objections or expressions of support - as the case may be. In all, the total consultation period will last one year.

In the meantime, the Friends have comprehensively revised the draft application document, with amendments that address feedback from the ongoing pre-consultation process.

Also we have added new material, including new sections, for instance on the recent mass-die off of fur seal pups and also on remarkable new findings by Auckland University researchers on the economic value of marine reserves, focussing on the Hauraki Gulf snapper fishery. Both are touched on in this newsletter. We have also included other scientific reports demonstrating the merits of no-take marine reserves as the clearly best form of marine ecosystem protection. To view the latest version of the application document please see:

Read the full proposal here.

Mass die-off of kekeno New Zealand fur seals in the Hauraki Gulf

Waiheke Islanders and North Shore residents like many people living in and alongside the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park have been dismayed and perplexed at the discovery of dozens of dead fur seal pups washed up on their beaches this Spring. See:

Graphic Shaun Lee

So far our colleague Shaun Lee has compiled records of 44 confirmed cases of dead seal pups (the last reported from Takapuna just as we went to press) and 30 more unconfirmed within the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park since August.

Sadly the authorities have been somewhat dismissive of these reports. As evidently no-one has ever tried to record numbers of dead seal pups before, there is no existing benchmark with which to obtain an objective comparison. However judging by the sheer numbers, a 'mass mortality event is by no means an exaggeration. Certainly for most Hauraki Gulf-dwelling residents the scale of the die-off is unprecedented.

Dead fur seal pup at Palm Beach September. Photo Robin Kearns.

Nationally DOC takes a 'hands off' approach to fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) as they are not deemed a threatened species. Over time fur seals are reportedly gradually expanding their range. They now appear to be attempting to recolonise the Hauraki Gulf, from where they were hunted to local extinction hundreds of years ago. In recent years, sightings of kekeno within the Gulf have increased and (see our September e-newsletter), ten adult fur seals are now using nearby Otata Island in the Noises for hauling-out during winter. But there are no known fur seal breeding colonies or rookeries within the Hauraki Gulf. The major fur seal breeding colonies are located mainly around Cook Strait and on the South Island. DOC suspects (from photos) that some of the dead pups appear to be Subantarctic fur seals, the nearest rookery for which is Macquarie Island some 3,000 km away. The nearest known fur seal rookery to the Hauraki Gulf is Karewa Island in the Bay of Plenty.

But at this stage no-one has any idea just where these seals are coming from or more importantly, exactly why they are dying. DOC are helping Shaun Lee with his study but starvation is thought to be a likely factor. But this raises questions about how dozens of fur seal pups are able to swim, evidently hundreds of kilometres or more, through rough seas to reach the inner Gulf - only to die on beaches, sometimes within sight of the skyline of our biggest city. The only known pathological investigation that has been undertaken, was of a fur seal pup found in distress on a North Shore beach in late September which later died despite intensive veterinary care. A post-mortem examination (necropsy) revealed the pups stomach to be empty but it also revealed a severe parasitical infestation. Whether starvation is the cause or symptomatic of an underlying cause remains to be scientifically determined.

It may be that fur seals are breeding in an undiscovered rookery somewhere in or near the Gulf. Whatever, the issue of starvation of dozens of seal pups raises questions about the availability of prey and therefore the health of our marine ecosystem. Sadly it seems even though the Hauraki Gulf has been a marine park and its wildlife and life-supporting capacity is by Act of Parliament a matter of national significance, the authorities appear to know more about seals in the Ross Sea of Antarctica than those in the Hauraki Gulf.

Fur seals have been persecuted by humans for centuries and are only now making an attempt to return to a place where they once thrived. Humans no longer hunt and kill them but that doesn't mean we should continue to be indifferent to their plight. There are so many questions about this phenomenon and so far, not many convincing answers. The Friends of the Hauraki Gulf is supporting investigations into the cause of this phenomenon. We see the mass die-off is a very clear signal from the natural world that all is not well in the Hauraki Gulf.

Surely this unhappy event must give the authorities some sense of urgency to do something tangible about marine protection, especially in the provision of no-take marine reserves. Unlike the rest of us, kekeno pups will certainly be allowed to fish in the Hakaimango - Matiatia Marine Reserve.

Dead fur seal pup at the Esplanade, Waiheke Island, August 2021. Photo Tane Feary.

Marine reserves significantly boost the Hauraki Gulf snapper population
- and its commercial value

A ground-breaking scientific assessment of the economic value provided to the Hauraki Gulf by the ecosystem services of the small Cape Rodney-Okakari Point (Goat Island or Leigh) Marine Reserve has been released by researchers at the University of Auckland. And the results even if just based on snapper numbers alone are remarkable

The paper is titled Economic valuation of the snapper recruitment effect from a well-established temperate no-take marine reserve on adjacent fisheries, and its authors are Zoe Qu, Simon Thrush, Darren Parson and Nicolas Lewis.

Heres a quote from the abstract:

Empirical evidence shows that 10.6% of newly settled juvenile snappers sampled up to 55 km outside of the MPA [marine reserve] were the offspring of adult snappers from the MPA. This suggests a significant boost to the commercial fishery of $NZ 1.49 million catch landing value per annum and $NZ 3.21 million added from recreational fishing activity associated spending per annum. These values all come from the recruitment effects associated with one species, from only 0.08% of the marine space in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. The economic valuation of this marine reserves snapper recruitment effect demonstrated $NZ 9.64 million in total spending accruing to recreational fishing per annum and $NZ 4.89 million in total output to commercial fisheries annually.

Snapper or tmure (Chrysophrys auratus) at Cape Rodney Okakari (Goat Island) Marine Reserve. Photo Shaun Lee.

This story was also picked up by the New Zealand Herald, in a feature by science reporter Jamie Morton.

Heres the link to the scientific paper

Imagine how much value the Hakaimango-Matiatia marine reserve which at 2,300ha is more than four times bigger than the 518ha Cape Rodney-Okakari Point (Goat Island) Marine Reserve - would create.

A true miracle of nature
- the return of the godwits

Godwits come in to land after their long journey. Photo Wikicommons.

After a non-stop journey of 11,000 km, kuaka bar-tailed godwits (Luminosa lapponica baueri) have arrived in the New Zealand after their non-stop migration from Alaska. Te Matuku Marine Reserve is an important foraging ground for godwits in the Hauraki Gulf and its protected status has enabled gradual restoration of its biological values. Long-term Waiheke resident Cyril Wright who lives next to the marine reserve reports counting 59 early arriving kuaka foraging in and around the marine reserve. Kuaka based at Te Matuku also venture along the coast to forage in the intertidal at Whakanewha Regional Park and Blackpool beach where FOHG secretary Chris Curreen recently counted 31.

The globe-spanning migration of godwits has long been something of a mystery. Previously godwits which summer in New Zealand and Australia were believed to migrate via the east Asian seaboard to and from their northern summer breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska. Satellite tracking over recent years has revealed that almost all of the godwits which migrate to New Zealand are born in the Alaskan Arctic and reach here by an astonishing direct trans-oceanic flight which takes eight or nine days non-stop. This is by far the longest flight of any migratory bird. Science has revealed the mystery to be a veritable miracle.

The return journey home to Alaska in the southern autumn is via the east Asia seaboard and the Russian Far East. The two-way journey amounts to 30,000km and the little birds may repeat it up to 30 times in their lifetimes. In his A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds researcher Scott Weidensaul has written of the godwits stupendous feat.

It is now the longest continuous flight known by any bird, and as remarkable as the act of Ulyssean navigation are the internal physiological changes that licence the feat. The godwits binge to double their weight until they wobble when they walk. Yet rather than risking heart disease and diabetes, the birds inexplicably remain in the peak of health. Over the course of their millions of wingbeats they slowly use up the surplus fat, then start to consume their own internal muscles and organs as additional energy. Once they arrive in New Zealand they binge again to restore the weight loss.

A mixed flock of bar-tailed godwits and NZ dotterels at Te Matuku Marine Reserve in February 2020 (above). The godwits were fattening up in preparation for their epic journey to the Arctic. As part of the national godwit census held at that time, local conservationists Rob Morton and Mike Lee counted 94 godwits and 31 dotterels, underscoring the importance of Te Matuku Bay as a key foraging ground for these remarkable international wading birds and for other seabirds and marine life. Photo Mike Lee.

This year some migrating kuaka encountered strong winds that were decidedly unhelpful. One radio-tracked bird, a male named 4BRWB decided to give up and go back to Alaska, to try again another day. One, last years distance-speed champion, another male, ended up on the northern New South Wales coast. Hell no doubt have a rest, then complete the voyage by crossing the Tasman soon, says Keith Woodley wading bird scientist at Pukorokoro, the Miranda Shorebirds Centre. The champion this year is a female called 4BYWW who landed there after eight-and-a-half days and 12,000km of non-stop flying at an average airspeed of 59km/hr despite the winds adverse winds.

Photo Oscar Thomas, Birds NZ

In the understanding and management of ecosystems, all things are connected. So a healthy, regenerating and thriving coastal ecosystem that the Hakaimango-Matiatia marine Reserve will surely contribute to, will benefit the remarkable kuaka as well.

Bring back the giants!
Queensland grouper

Status: Protected

FOHG Committee member Sid Marsh looks ahead at what might be at Hakaimango-Matiatia Mraine Reserve:

It's regarded as a vagrant tropical species but as it is so easily extirpated by people, is it no wonder that the few which make it here never breed and establish. It is a shallow water fish - surface to 100-metres - and absolutely needs mangrove forest estuaries in order to breed. They grow to HUGE proportions.

Weighing in at 400kg with a length of 2.7 metres, the Queenland grouper at its largest resembles a VW Beetle with fleshy Mick Jagger lips. This fish is famously parochial in its home range, and will readily come into the shallows, right to the very surface. It is friendly, innately curious, and even, if I dare say it, loveable. It will hold station and lean in to have its throat scratched. The closely related Kermadec grouper will actually change colour as this service is rendered. The northern coastline of Waiheke with its aspect, kelp forests and reefs provides the perfect micro-climate and habitat for the QG.

Unfortunately, this guy is hopelessly naïve, readily taking a hook, stalling side-on at point-blank range for spearos, and generally being an all round sucker for the full spectrum of fishing methods utilized by humans in Aotearoa over the centuries. The QG are normally associated with tropical climes, but I would argue they could well be a true, albeit rarer, sub-tropical native of the Hauraki Gulf and Northland.

Juvenile Queensland grouper have extra-ordinary colouring. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Three locations this long-lived specimen has recently been found at: Deepwater Cove, Northland (2018); Aldermen Islands; Mercury Islands (2009 - speared); Poor Knights Marine Reserve (2001 later speared).

In regards to the last location, this particular fish later moved to the Hen and Chickens where it was wantonly shafted by a spearo in a competition. Directly in response to this, Dr Roger Grace approached then Minister of Conservation Sandra Lee, and she in turn wrote to the Minister of Fisheries seeking protection of the QG in NZ waters. Eventually, in June 2010 under Wildlife Order Schedule 7A, the Queensland grouper was at last formally listed as a protected species.

Seabirds in strife

Last Week the Hauraki Gulf Forum and the Northern New Zealand Seabirds Trust launched the State of Our Seabirds 2021, a report compiled by lead author Chris Gaskin. While many populations are recovering things are not so good around Waiheke.

Tkupu gannets are moving out of the Gulf leaving Horuhoru Gannet Rock for Mahuki on Aotea Great Barrier Island. Foraging is more intense near colonies suggesting declines in fish availability near Waiheke.

There have also been big declines in the parekareka spotted shag population with similar shifts to feeding further offshore. In response to the Governments Revitalising the Gulf plan the authors challenge the sustainable catch of forage fish asking 'sustainable for whom?

Graphic Shaun Lee.

Facebook & upgraded website

The Friends of the Hauraki Gulf group has established a Facebook page. Please give us lots of likes.

And our website has a new domain and easier-to-find address

On the Facebook page, weve already had some responses from folk in the recreational fishing community.

One asked about our aspirations to see hpuku return to these waters.

This was our answer, drafted by FOHG member Sid Marsh, who is an experienced diver:

Our proposed no-take area provides the perfect habitat for hpuku. They are in fact a very common reef fish which normally school in shallow reefs, and hold territories, but due to unrestricted fishing over the centuries have been cleaned out of the shallows and are now regarded as rare deepwater fish. They so readily take a baited hook, and this has led to their demise in the shallows. They are long-lived fish reaching 70+ years of age in order to attain 1.8m in lengths and 100kg weight.

If lines, hooks, nets and spearguns are kept out of the proposed area, and there are other marine reserves scattered about in a network close by then gradually, and quite naturally, hpuku WILL, albeit very slowly, return. We are looking at a 40, 50, 60+ year time frame here. Hpuku, along with 30+ year-old monster packhorse crayfish, are the ultimate indicator of a healthy submarine reef environment.

We have already secured one breeding area around Waiheke: Te Matuku Marine Reserve. Hpuku need protected nurseries in estuarine/mangrove zones in order to survive and spill over into adjacent areas.

Find out more - an invitation

The Friends of the Hauraki Gulf group would welcome any invitations (of course subject to Covid restrictions) to make an illustrated presentation to any interested community groups.

Please visit our new website for detailed information on the ecological values and the background of this proposal.

Please support us!

We will gratefully receive and acknowledge donations to our cause. All the work has been done, and now we need a little more to get our proposal over the line.

Our bank account details are:

Friends of the Hauraki Gulf
Kiwibank, Oneroa, Waiheke Island

Quick facts about the Hakaimango-Matiatia Marine Reserve proposal

  • The first new marine reserve proposal in the Hauraki Gulf for 20 years.

  • At around 2,300ha largest marine reserve in the Hauraki Gulf which in one stroke could nearly double the area of the Gulf currently protected.

  • A priority site recommended in a Gaps Analysis and Feasibility Study commissioned by the Waiheke Local Board and published in 2017

  • Located between Matiatia Point (the north head of Matiatia Bay) and Hakaimango (the western head of Oneroa Bay); extends 3.7km north from Hakaimango;then 4.85km westward, then southward for 5.08km, then eastward 2.33km to Matiatia Point comprising some 2,300 ha.

  • Is a marine ecological transition zone between the outer and inner Hauraki Gulf.

Photo Andy Spence.

  • Remarkable existing environmental values, a highly diverse, indented foreshore, islets and Miocene fossil bearing cliffs, highly productive undersea rock terraces and kelp forests making it highly suitable for ecological restoration.

  • Important feeding ground for all marine species - including seabirds and marine mammals.

  • Ideal habitat for lost taonga species hpuku, koror , kura (crayfish - both spiny lobster and packhorse), kekeno (fur seals).

  • Readily accessible for those who wish to study or who just quietly appreciate the marine environment and the natural world.

Photo Andy Spence.

Copyright (C) 2021 Friends of the Hauraki Gulf. All rights reserved.

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