The 2011 State of our Gulf report showed serious ongoing decline in the environmental health of the Hauraki Gulf. Friends of the Hauraki Gulf (FOTHG), a Waiheke Island based community group, was formed in response to this.

The FOTHGs vision is for a healthy Gulf, rich with marine life, for the enjoyment of everyone, now and in the future. All Waiheke people are invited to join the group in working collaboratively towards realising this vision.

There is widespread consensus among scientists and others that a network of marine reserves, covering a range of habitats throughout the Gulf, is the best way to achieve this vision. This network should cover at least 10% of the area of the Gulf. At present only 0.3% of the Gulf is protected by marine reserves.

As the Waiheke Island community lives within the Hauraki Gulf, the FOTHG believe that they should play a greater role in this protection. Part of the northern coastline is a possible location for a new marine reserve. The FOTHG has engaged marine scientists to carry out credible studies which will enable them to assess the potential for this. A marine habitat survey was completed in April 2013; a biological survey was independently started in December 2012 and is still in progress; and a professionally-conducted random social survey of the attitudes of Waiheke people towards their uses of the coastal marine environment is under development in conjunction with the Waiheke Local Board. The FOTHG expects the social survey to be followed by focus groups to gain deeper insights into the perspectives of particular stakeholder groups and how their interests can best be accommodated.

The boundaries of a marine reserve can only be reasonably and formally considered once all these studies have been completed, analysed and presented to the community. Ultimately, the final decision about an exact location will be a community one, and everyone will be invited to contribute to the process.

The FOTHG sees the Waiheke Island northern marine reserve initiative as an opportunity to contribute to the restoration and protection of the marine biodiversity of the Hauraki Gulf and to create an enduring inter-generational gift to the future people of Waiheke Island and the Hauraki Gulf. Recreational, customary and commercial fishing outside a marine reserve will also benefit.

In 2013, the Hauraki Gulf Conservation Trust in conjunction with the Hauraki Gulf Branch of Forest & Bird provided funding to the Friends of the Hauraki Gulf for a habitat survey of the northern coastline of Waiheke Island as part of this initiative

For further information see www.naturespace.org.nz/groups/friends-of-the-hauraki-gulf.

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