A Paradise Conspiracy
by Hamish Carnachan
An article from the Investigate Magazine, September 2003 .

This excellent analysis by the author of documents obtained under the Official Information Act, combined with interviews, gives an understanding of the concerns many people have about the political aims of protagonists for marine reserves.  We have made this document available in its entirety on our web site so that it can serve as a reference for those who study marine reserves, their implementation, consultation and policies.
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Much like an Antarctic depression generating the trademark swell that batters the region, an ugly storm is brewing over the conservation of Auckland’s west coast, playground to a million people a year. It’s a storm which, like the foreshore and seabed debacle, could soon envelop much of New Zealand amid allegations that the Government’s real agenda for beaches has been uncovered, as Hamish Carnachan reports.

The weather couldn’t be more fitting for a meeting to discuss the future of Auckland’s wild coast line. It’s a cold, blustery and wet night in west Auckland and rain beats down steadily on the roof of the Kelston Community Centre – foul conditions that match the mood inside, but which have done nothing to deter the turnout. The hall is packed to near capacity and the atmosphere is as electric as the threatening black clouds outside.

Tempers are running high. This is a gathering organised by Sand and Sea – a collective of “concerned coastal users interested in preserving our coast and maintaining our rights to access and use our coastal resources in a responsible and sustainable manner”, notes spokesperson John van der Haas in his introductory speech. Assembled in the cramped hall are fisher-folk, four-wheel drive enthusiasts, divers, politicians, horseriders, west coast locals and even a marine biologist in opposition to the marine park proposal. Their backgrounds are diverse but they all share the same fear – exclusion from their favoured recreational pastimes.

Even those who have never ventured out to Auckland’s west coast will be familiar with the area – its rugged natural beauty has attracted film crews, both local and international for some years. The craggy coastline, black sand beaches, towering cliffs and exploding swells have starred on screens around the world. It is a place of unparalleled majesty shrouded with both mist and mystique, providing an ideal setting for moody dramas like The Piano or sword-wielding superheroes like Xena.

It is also the perfect playground for Auckland’s burgeoning population. Few cities in the world would share such a close proximity to the expanse of wilderness provided by Piha, Karekare and Muriwai beaches and the bordering Waitakere Ranges. It is this popularity that now threatens the values that attract so many visitors – at least that’s what some locals and conservation lobby-groups are arguing, but they’re finding their moves to protect the region are not sitting as pretty as the scenery.

Plans to preserve the Waitakere Ranges as a national park are already in the pipeline. Members of Parliament from the Waitakere region are backing the initiative and it appears to have gone down well – the area sees more visitors each year than all of New Zealand’s national parks combined. Now, though, an organisation innocuously calling itself the West Coast Working Group is trying to garner support to take the conservation of the ‘wild west coast’ one step further, by extending the protective umbrella over the bush reserves to the marine environment – via the formation of a marine park from Kaipara Harbour in the north to Port Waikato in the south.

As the debate surrounding Maori claims to the foreshore and seabed continues to rage, opposition to the West Coast Working Group’s marine protection proposal is also mounting amid fears that leisure activities will be restricted in Auckland’s favourite recreational area. With the submission process drawing to a close, the main opposition to the marine park, the Sand and Sea Coastal Users Group, is hitting out with allegations and evidence it says raise questions about the park proponent’s motives.

You can almost hear the collective groan from the Green-lobby: “Bloody rednecks, all they do is take, take, take…” However, what the West Coast Working Group (WCWG) has put down on paper – government documents released under the Official Information Act – stands in stark contrast to what it has said in the public domain, alleges Sand and Sea. This is what has given rise to the group’s concerns over the openness of the consultation process.

Grumbling from the floor sums up their feelings: “Outrage” at the “deceitful manner” in which the WCWG has gone about the whole process. Central to Sand and Sea’s gripes is the reference to ‘marine reserves’ in the protection proposal. For many of the fishermen and divers gathered, the term is a foul expletive that would signal the end to their recreational endeavours along the coast were it passed into law. “They would impose outrageous restrictions on sensible citizens,” is a passing comment.

There is clearly confusion over what the WCWG hopes to achieve – a marine park, or marine reserves. And there is a marked difference between the two. While a marine park recognises an area as having significant cultural, recreational and environmental values, and provides a degree of protection to ensure those features aren’t squandered or threatened by over – development, a marine reserve places a blanket ban on any extractive activity. No fishing, no shellfish gathering, no diving for crayfish, in marine reserves – essentially you can look, but don’t touch.

Publicly the WCWG, headed by Ken Catt, an executive of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, has highlighted in its discussion document a series of “Hot Spots”, nine in total, “….that may warrant greater protection as marine reserves…”

The word ‘reserve’ appears 76 times in the 50-page document.

Additionally, in the May 2003 issue of Forest and Bird magazine a feature article reports on “Forest and Bird’s marine reserve proposal for Auckland’s Wild West Coast”.

Yet, in declining an invitation to this meeting, Catt informs the chairman of Sand and Sea in an email: “ I do not wish to attend and have yet another evening of abuse, and listening to more orchestrated false statements concerning the effects of a Park, and claims that members of our Group really want to set up a chain of marine reserves.”

Does Forest and Bird seriously believe its opponents haven’t seen the May issue of Forest and Bird. It is exactly the type of contradiction that has Sand and Sea so perplexed, and is one of the main reasons the opposition lobby-group was hastily set up three months ago to counter the proposal.

References to marine reserves go back to the inception of the West Coast marine park concept, April 2001. The term is littered throughout the minutes of WCWG meetings. For instance, at a meeting in June 2001 the group discussed identifying “areas for greater protection” within a marine park, and noted that an “area of Muriwai had been investigated as a marine reserve”.

Investigate has obtained an internal email sent by Catt to members of the working group, which seems to clearly outline the intentions of the WCWG. The convenor states in his correspondence dated 26 September 2002: “ It is suggested that we reinvent the wheel by using the term ‘ no take areas’ to cover what are in fact marine reserves with all of the Marine Reserve Act controls.

“The Act is now being modified to make it much easier to apply for reserves and it has been accepted that one application can cover a number of the sites listed in the report as ‘hot spots’,” explains Catt in the email.

“We have been accused of having a secret agenda and if we plan to establish what are in effect marine reserves but attempt to disguise this by calling them ‘no take’ areas this accusation will have some foundation.”

But there’s little wonder accusations of “secret agenda” flew around: Minutes from an August 2001 meeting state: “ It was however, strongly emphasised and agreed that ‘no-take’ areas should be referred to as such and not called Marine Reserves, to achieve greater support.”

Today, Catt assures Investigate that the WCWG “definitely has no plans to impose marine reserves” – he says the group has neither the facilities nor the jurisdiction to do so.

“ For some reason this recreational fishing group has come out of the woodwork saying ‘no, no, we don’t need greater protection, we’re going to be excluded’ and all sorts of other ridiculous arguments.

“ The talk about marine reserves in the meetings is being quoted completely out of context. Well after that date, of those minutes, it was decided that we weren’t going to go into ‘no take’ areas whatsoever.”

He says part of the problem with the confusion over the marine park/ marine reserve issue is that the documentation “probably wasn’t worded quite clearly”.

Yet, despite Catt’s protestations that members of the group are not interested in setting up a chain of marine reserves, a letter from Conservation Minister Chris Carter to Peter Maddison, who is listed as a “stakeholder” in the WCWG, indicates otherwise.

“ I am interested to hear of your work towards developing a network of marine reserves on the west coast, “ writes Carter in the communication dated 1 April 2003.

Under New Zealand’s Biodiversity Strategy, the Labour Government has set a target of protecting 10 percent of the country’s marine environment by 2010. In the letter, obtained under the Official Information Act, Carter indicated that the west coast plan could “contribute towards the government’s target”.

If you were looking for evidence of a backroom deal between Labour and conservationists, say Sand and Sea, Carter’s wording is pretty clear.

“ I understand that your proposal is in line with my department’s aim to develop an overall marine protection strategy based on a holistic coastal classification system.”

The proposal put to Carter by Forest and Bird’s Waitakere branch was to investigate “developing a network of Marine Reserves on Auckland’s West Coast….. a trail blazing pilot for developing networks around New Zealand”.

It goes on to note that: “ We have made an application to the Department of Conservation (Carter’s department) for funding to help us develop a formal proposal for a network of marine reserves….Funding will enable us to develop a formal proposal, revolutionising the way we develop marine reserves in New Zealand. We hope the Department will view our proposal favourably and see it as a significant step towards achieving the Government’s targets…”

When Investigate drops the inevitable “care to explain?” question, Ken Catt’s response is one of astonishment: “ I don’t believe it. What date is it? Its not true.”

Unfortunately though, it’s there in black and white, complete with the email address kiwicatt@xtra.co.nz, and Catt’s signature over Peter Maddison’s name.

Initially, Conservation Minister Chris Carter declined to comment, stating that as Minister of Conservation he must remain removed from the process to retain impartiality. It wasn’t until Investigate pointed out that we had documentation revealing he has had correspondence with members of the working group that he decided to remark that any discussions were only on an “informal” basis.

So much for perceived impartiality, and it does beg questions about Carter’s role in other marine reserve proposals around the country.

It is not clear from either document what Maddison’s role was and why Ken Catt signed on his behalf, nor is it clear whether he wrote to Carter in his official capacity as a Forest and Bird executive, but for van der Haas that’s beside the point – the two organizations are inextricably linked. He says the WCWG is circulating “ a lot of misinformation” and Sand and Sea are now “very wary of a hidden agenda”.

Even Catt admits that there is a conflict of interest between Forest and Bird’s national policy, which supports the promotion of marine reserves, and the working group mandate. But, he says, as convenor of the working group he is bound to its decisions.

“ If the working group says it doesn’t want marine reserves we don’t have marine reserves. Its all quite simple and straight forward really,” says Catt.

“ Forest and Bird, unfortunately, have not helped in the slightest by coming out with this bloody article. One of the leading marine biologists in the country did this research and made it available to us. Forest and Bird leapt upon that research and said these are areas that might be marine reserves. In his (the biologist’s) report he says these are areas of exceptional value that may need protecting at some stage in the future and what the options are. But we’re years away from moving towards marine reserves if any one is going to do it at all – its certainly not going to be us.”

It still smells fishy to Sand and Sea. It says the relationship is too cosy and the public should realise that it is taxpayer money being used to push this plan.

Forest and Bird was given a Lottery Environment and Heritage Grant worth $50,000 by the Lottery Grants Board in December 2001. According to the board the funding was awarded towards a Conservation Officer’s salary and travel expenses to develop a plan for a marine park on Auckland’s west coast.

Subsequently, it turns out that the Conservation Officer was employed by Forest and Bird and was responsible to the Conservation Manager of the society. Jaci Fowler, the author of the Forest and Bird article and the WCWG “Public Discussion” document, filled the aforementioned position.

Is this a truly independent process, or is the relationship between the Labour Government and the conservation charity less than transparent?

Says van der Haas: “ They (Forest and Bird) claim that the grant was sought by their organisation because it was already an existing incorporated society. It took us only about three weeks to get an incorporated society status so that shoots Forest and Bird’s argument to pieces.”

As Catt points out though, the WCWG would have been required to show that it has been operating as a society for at least a year before it could be granted funding. Still, in hindsight he says that perhaps Forest and Bird’s association with the project was “a mistake”.

Catt was quizzed on Forest and Bird’s involvement in the process at a public meeting at Bethells Beach in early May. The allegation from the floor was that Forest and Bird would use its influence in the WCWG to push for the formation of marine reserves. Back then he made the same the assurance, that it “ would not be the case”.

“ The draft legislation being drawn up has a whole list of community representatives, not one of those is a Forest and Bird representative. When the advisory group is set up, they will be controlling whatever happens in the park, not Forest and Bird.”

But there is still contention from some quarters as to how representative the current working group is. Fishing groups say the “hot spots” have the highest recreational shore- based use. Trish Rea, spokesperson for the recreational fishing lobby option4, signed the organisation up to Sand and Sea when she learnt only one fishing representative was sitting on that 15-member panel.

She says a lack of representation combined with the WCWG discussions about “managing visitor impact” equals exclusion for people who enjoy certain recreational activities, like casting a line.

“ I'd put my money on the fact that they’d be out and about restricting what you’re doing on that beach, “ says Rea.

As with any consultation process, the results of public submissions on the marine park will be used to argue for or against instatement. Sand and Sea says consultation has been anything but fair and open, and even suggests, “ The results of the proposal are being loaded by Forest and Bird.”

In a recently released media statement, Catt says that the proposal will only be abandoned if the “wider general public vote against (it)”. In reference to members of option4 dominating public meetings at the expense of local residents having their say, he goes on to state, “Our working group has no intention of acting upon the wishes of pressure groups that do not represent the cross section of the population. Our decision to progress the matter further will be democratically based upon the submissions and questionnaires we receive.”

But Sand and Sea questions the ‘democratic’ basis of the consultation process, when, it says, more draft proposals were sent out to Forest and Bird members, via their magazine, than entered the public domain. “ How does that represent the cross section of the population?” asks van der Haas.

Sand and Sea also has an issue with Catt’s reference to ‘ pressure groups’. If anything, the documents sent to Investigate paint a picture of an organisation using weight to influence the outcome of the submission and consultation process. One of these is an email sent by Catt to west Auckland members of Forest and Bird urging them to attend an upcoming meeting.

“ Unfortunately ‘Rent a Mob’ appeared at the Muriwai meeting intent on stopping constructive discussion…” writes Catt. “ it is possible that they will appear at other meetings and we therefore ask that those who support the Marine Park concept attend the planned meeting to give us support…You should shortly be receiving a copy of the questionnaire covering the project which is to be included in the magazine. We need to prove support for the project so please ensure that you complete and return the questionnaire.”

Rea now says it is very hard to believe anything the WCWG says in light of these disclosures.

“ They haven’t involved the community,” she says. “ They’re wondering why they are getting so much opposition – it’s because of the poor consultation. When you’re talking one million visitors to Muriwai per year and they only come out with 3000 of these (questionnaires), do they really value your opinion?”

Again, Catt is candid in answering the allegations. He admits that questionnaires were mailed out to local members of Forest and Bird, though he does not recall how many, but says it was done to combat Sand and Sea stacking the results.

“ Sand and Sea and option4 have a website with the answers already ticked, so all people have to do is put their name on it and send it in. I was told that option4 has sent the questionnaire to 10,000 recreational fishers. So what’s the difference?”

If that is the case then there is no difference, but it would seem that the whole process has now become a bit of a sham. How much weight can be placed on the submission process when, if what Catt says is correct, both parties are trying to load the results?

“That’s exactly it. Quite frankly the whole thing is utterly ridiculous. The questionnaires we might as well throw in the wastepaper basket and ignore them and just look at the proper submissions that come in, but I don’t know if we’re going to do that or not.”

It is an admission the Minister of Conservation agrees is cause for concern.

“ When I come to evaluate or sign off any marine reserve proposal my department would look very closely at the consultation process,” says Carter. “ If it wasn’t a fair process I would have to reject that proposal.”

Paul Hutchison, National MP for Port Waikato, has also waded into the argument because he is wary of the Government’s previous community consultation initiatives and says “huge cynicism” has already been generated over the way the WCWG has handled this process.

In a letter to the Conservation Minister outlining his constituents’ concerns, Hutchison writes, “(They) do not feel they have been properly consulted. The community are concerned they will have a management scheme imposed on them that is being driven by politicians and pressure groups north of the Manukau Heads.”

He believes the people of Port Waikato have been stung before by hastily drafted legislation, which placed a ban on set nets to protect Maui’s Dolphin (formerly known as North Island Hector’s dolphin).

Maui’s dolphin is critically endangered with as few as 100 to 150 still alive. Commercial and recreational set nets have been blamed for the decline of the species so, last year, the Minister of Fisheries, Pete Hodgson, placed a ban on commercial set netting from Maunganui Bluff to Pariokariwa Point, north of New Plymouth. All commercial set netting was also banned in and around the Manukau Heads, but to the consternation of local residents so too was recreational netting, despite a lack of evidence that the dolphins actually enter the harbour.

A Department of Conservation information brochure on the topic says Hodgson made the decision after “a process of public consultation, with input from many people and organisations…” that isn’t how Hutchison sees it. He says the Minister of Fisheries “ran roughshod over the community consultation”.

“ There was strong evidence that little notice of the community was taken….last year regarding Maui’s dolphin,” he says. “ An agreement was reached for the local community including Maori to work with MAF in order to ensure an appropriate management plan was carried out. The local community was distressed when the Minister of Fisheries over-rode the previously understood agreement established a no-netting policy within the Manukau Heads.”

Part of the WCWG mandate for a marine park is to implement a marine mammal sanctuary to provide Maui’s dolphin with greater refuge, but even the Department of Conservation has stated that there is no logic in such a proposal because the new legislation offers enough protection.

Sand and Sea says the WCWG is using emotional arguments, like the fate of Maui’s dolphin, rather than supporting research to strengthen its argument.

A Forest and Bird media statement released in June this year, urging action to better protect Maui’s dolphin, claims “at least five of the six previous (dolphin) deaths were caused by fishing”.

Sceptical of the allegations, a member of Sand and Sea obtained the autopsy results and discovered that only two deaths could be conclusively linked to net entrapment. One of the other four had died of natural causes and the remainder were so decomposed the report states that specifying a cause of death would be pure conjecture.

The WCWG sees the combination of commercial and recreational fishing catches on the west coast as a threat to fish stocks, and it says Auckland’s increasing population will only lead to greater pressure being imposed on those numbers from increased fishers. It is this argument that provided the foundation for excluding commercial operations and creating “no-take” areas within the proposed marine park, which would extend 12 nautical miles out from the Mean High Water Springs.

Again, Sand and Sea argues that the logic is flawed. It says all of the species sought by fishers move up and down the entire coast in migratory schools, meaning they could be targeted outside the park boundaries. Additionally, the commercial sector is already prohibited from trawling within a mile of the coast.

Asked at a public forum whether the state of the biology on the coast was under any threat, Fowler answered, “ For fish species I would say we need much more research.”

And minutes from a WCWG meeting held in May 2003 disclose that, “ The group agreed there were no facts” to justify pushing commercial operators further out.

While Sand and Sea acknowledges there is a problem with shellfish being stripped from exposed rock platforms, particularly at popular beaches like Piha, Karekare and Muriwai, it points out that local communities have the authority, under Section 186A of the Fisheries Act, to declare closures for periods of up to two years.

Findings from an independent marine monitoring programme at Karekare appear to back up the worth of such legislation. The ecology report states: “We have learned a lot about the life cycles and were astounded to discover that the little black flea mussel, an opportunist, grows to maturity in 3 months. The green-lipped mussel grows to maturity in 12-18 months, indicating that there is a high potential for relatively quick comeback after a ‘disaster’.”

But Sand and Sea points out that no research has been done to determine the state of the submarine shellfish beds. One recreational diver says below the surface the stocks are fine because the rough nature of the Tasman Sea protects them from being over-harvested.

However, that is why the working group was set up, according to Catt –“ to discuss and determine “ what the community sees as the preferred methods fro protecting the coastal environment and its biodiversity. He says reserves were just one of many options and the pro-fishing lobby has blown it out of all proportion.

It isn’t hard to see how things could have become misconstrued though. Another reason given by the WCWG for greater protection of the west coast marine environment highlights the confusion surrounding the plan. Stated is the aim to develop a continuum from “ the land to the sea”, creating a more holistic approach to environmental management.

“Greater marine protection will help to enhance the west coast as a tourist destination whilst ensuring its sustainability,” is the reasoning given in the discussion document. The suggestion is that this would translate into greater visitor numbers through tourism. And yet, a couple of pages later, “visitor impacts” is listed as one of the “threats” to the region.

Such a ‘land to sea’ continuum is an ideology echoed by the Waitakere City Council, which links back to Hutchison’s comment about the management scheme being driven by politicians north of the Manukau Heads.

In April 2001, on a Forest and Bird letterhead, Catt sent out what appears to be an invitation to discuss the concept of a west coast marine park at the Waitakere City Council chambers.

It says, “David Cunliffe, MP for Titirangi has our full support for his vision of some form of marine park which might be established quickly by legislation to protect immediately endangered species such as Hector’s Dolphin.”

As recently as July, a page regarding the marine park appeared on Cunliffe’s now-defunct website, in which it states that he and the Waitakere City Mayor, Bob Harvey, are co-sponsors of the WCWG. It describes the concept of enhanced protection for inshore fisheries from the Kaipara to the Manukau within which “areas of ‘no-take’ reserve and areas of recreational use would be agreed…” and calls the project one that “enjoys strong popular support and would be a lasting complement to Waitakere’s on-shore ‘Eco-City’”.

In the agenda for the first meeting on the proposal in April 2001, chaired by Harvey, both he and Cunliffe are listed as “possible stakeholders”. Sand and Sea suspects that Catt approached the pair to become involved and Harvey “jumped on board because he is very much for (marine) reserves”. But Catt says Harvey was the one who approached him.

There doesn’t seem to be any real problem there, but Sand and Sea says the mayor is being coy about disclosing his involvement, particularly now that it faces mounting opposition.

“ He got in there behind Forest and Bird at the beginning to push for this so he could take the credit if it worked, or take cover if it backfired, “ says van der Haas.

The Waitakere City Council West Coast Plan clearly states a policy of supporting “a West Coast Marine Reserve “ in the long term, and a goal to “Support establishment of a West Coast Marine Park” in 2003/04.

Minutes from WCWG meetings detail letters emphasising Harvey and his council’s “full support” for the marine park and a willingness to “help out in any way they can to help push on with the project”.

Correspondence between Harvey and Catt shows the offer was certainly taken up too. In November 2002 Harvey wrote to Catt with “some thoughts” on the draft discussion document and he advises “we need to be a little more aggressive about where we are going with this and how it will be completed…. I would be happy to host a gathering of interested parties in the new year at Council as we did about a year ago if it would be of use to you”.

Sand and Sea believes there was no public notification of that first meeting: “ We suspect it was invitation only,” says van der Haas. When members of the group query Harvey about his involvement, they say he denies having anything to do with the issue. “… you do not understand that this is not an issue of me or this Council,” was one response to a Sand and Sea member’s email inquiry.

And yet, in a letter to Catt in July 2001, shortly after the initial meeting, Harvey says: “ If there are any particular actions that your group recommends that I should take to keep things going at a civic level, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line” followed by a hand-written note that reads, “Ken, People have a good feeling that this will happen.”

Speaking to Harvey though, the problem appears a lot simpler than any perceived collusion. The relationship between the two protagonists seems to have simply degenerated to a point where neither party is prepared to commit to dialogue.

“In the meetings that I have been involved with I have seen about 200 old salts complain about an idea that seemed to change every time it was put up. I saw a lot of people talking past each other because they wanted to. You could argue about the politics of representation all day, and to be honest you can always fill a hall with people trying to stop something and not fill a phone box with a group trying to start up a good idea – that’s local politics for you, “ says Harvey.

Harvey openly admits his personal involvement and tells Investigate that, as the relevant council most affected by the proposal, Waitakere City Council has been interested from the start as well.

“We are and have been for the last 10 years a pro-conservation eco-city, so proposals that strengthen the biodiversity of the marine ecology have our keen interest, “ he says.

“ Early on I urged the idea of a marine park on and encouraged all interested parties to come together in the council chamber to clarify what was being proposed and gauge the nature of the work that would need to be done.

“ Personally, I have a deep commitment to the west coast and I want to see that protected. We’ve seen what just leaving it to people who are supposed to care for it does i.e. just the locals, or just the Ministry of Fisheries, or just the Department of Conservation – and what it does is protect not much.

“ Who started the idea? Well it wasn’t me if that’s what you’re asking. For me the point is a lot of people thought it was a good idea at the same time and I cheered it on.”

Perhaps people thought it was a good idea at the time because, two years on from that upbeat letter he sent to the working group convenor, Harvey’s tone has clearly changed, possibly in response to the rumblings of opposition.

In correspondence dated 27 May 2003, Harvey informs Catt: “ Here’s my clear advice: go to ground. The reason is – and one that the working party can legitimately give – is that the Minister of Conservation is about to put into the House his Marine Reserves Bill…. Align you programme until well after the timing and scheduling of the Select Committee submission process carefully, as the media will be now watching this very closely. The Minister I am sure will not appreciate another bill infecting the debate and potentially destabilising his bill…”

The Local Government and Environment Select Committee is presently hearing submissions on the Marine Reserves Bill, which if passed will make it easier to create marine reserves. Forest and Bird have collected 15,000 signatures in support.

After Catt’s earlier comments – “ The Act is being modified to make it easier to apply for reserves” – it is little wonder Sand and Sea sense a scheme being hatched. But Harvey makes no secret of the fact that he told the working group to “go to ground”.

“ I advised the working group that this was getting a lot of opposition and that the Government had several pieces of legislation on the go that would directly impact upon the proposal as it stood – including the Marine Reserves Bill and then the came the foreshore issue – and that it was worth lying low until the debates over this and other government initiatives made the debate over the issue clearer.”

Meanwhile, Hutchison still believes Cunliffe, Carter and Harvey plan to see “the whole of the west coast locked up in a massive marine park” and now that the public is becoming aware of their intentions, the three are indeed worried about a backlash affecting associated maritime legislation.

“ If there is an example of central government imposing something on a community that they don’t want, I think they’re fearful of how the public will react to this (Carter’s) Bill, “ he says. “ It seems like central government imposition on a community.

“ I’m not against a marine park but I think Forest and Bird, an organisation that has had a great deal of respect from a lot of people, myself included up to this point, have done themselves a disservice with their approach here.”

And that perhaps sums up this turbulent saga. No one seems to be against a marine protection per se, they just want open and accountable dialogue, which van der Haas says has been missing from this proposal since its inception, to see if a west coast marine park is really necessary.

Divers say there are only about 15 days each year that the visibility is good enough to warrant getting underwater, recreational fishers say they are lucky to get 70 days a year when the swell is calm enough to make boating safe. That is partly why Sand and Sea argues that an area as rugged and wild as the west coast does not need greater safeguards: “Protection from the elements is the best possible defence against over-extraction.” Problem is, they say, they’re not being listened to.

Catt contests that. He says the opposing parties were offered ample opportunity to meet and discuss their concerns, but instead they continue to “ go around telling a whole heap of lies about what the working group is going to do”.

It seems a shame that the real issues have been undermined by what appears to be a clash of obstinate personalities. Beneath the shroud of mistrust there are still underlying principles that both parties adhere to – current policing and enforcement regimes are simply not working in some areas. But like the waves pounding Piha’s Lion Rock, butting heads is not going to provide any immediate solution. The absurdity is that this goes directly against the ideology Sand and Sea and the WCWG say they were founded under – to protect the sustainability of the beautiful west coast.

New Zealanders have a lot to thank the conservation movement for but as the Labour Government and Maori have discovered, creating uncertainty over what all Kiwis consider a birth-right is never going to be well received. Some commentators say Labour’s ambivalent decision over the foreshore and seabed claims have left the country becalmed, however, the storm over the future of Auckland’s west coast only seems set to intensify.

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