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Why do we need marine reserves?

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PS8-12410This is an edited version of a presentation given to the Eastern Bay of Islands Preservation Society AGM on Friday 6 January 2012. It tells the story of our kina barrens; what they are, why they arise and how to turn back the tide --

"The Fish Forever objective is to protect 10% of the Bay of Islands in no-take marine sanctuaries for at least a generation (taking that to be 25 years). When we say marine sanctuaries, we do mean marine reserves – we have avoided using that expression because of the negative connotations associated with it for some people but at some point we must embrace the reality that marine reserves – albeit in combination with other tools, hopefully alongside customary Maori management tools – are the only long term protection tool that makes a substantial difference to the marine biodiversity of the bay.

I’m sure that all of you know of the serious issues facing our oceans globally, of which biodiversity depletion is but one problem in a handful of frightening pressures. However, it is a problem that we as a community can address directly, effectively and in our own backyard.

There are other measures that can help our fish numbers – such as reduction in bag limits, seasonal closures etc. – but these do not address that word “biodiversity” – the beauty of the Bay of Islands as a whole, the respect for nature as an end in itself, not as part of a fisheries management program. We are talking about national parks of the sea.

Today there is just one way I’d like to illustrate why we need these no-take zones in the Bay of Islands.

Two words: kina barrens.

When you kayak around the islands out here you might see a few fish, you'll experience the thrill of being in an open unpopulated space, you'll feel at one with the elements, if you’re lucky you’ll see larger marine mammals that never fail to give you that transcendental joy.

And if you look down ... you'll see dozens and dozens of spiky fellas grazing on what appears to be bare rock.

kinabarren

This isn’t natural.

The density of kinas should be about 1 to every square metre. The Bay of Islands sees more like 10 to every square metre. And the problem with that? Kina live on a diet of kelp. They gnaw through the kelp forests that should be flourishing around our rocky shores. The result is a barren seascape.

Why does this matter?

It matters because the kelp forests are crucial to the natural balance of our marine environment. Wikipedia describes them as one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems on earth. These kelp beds form the homes of numerous marine animals, they are places of shelter, safehouses for juvenile fish – without them we risk flattening out the range and abundance of species that live in our coastal waters. In fact, that is already happening.

What’s the cause for the kina explosion?

Overfishing.

catch-too-many

By taking out the larger snapper and crayfish, for whom a large part of their diet is kina, and by overfishing the stocks remaining so there are less fish to replace those large snapper and crays, we eliminate the natural cycle that keeps kina numbers in check and we are left with bare rock and lots of kina.

The beauty of this problem is that there is a neat answer.

Simply by leaving an area alone – by preventing any extraction in a defined area, that space will, within a few years, begin to re-establish its natural balance, the the kelp forests will grow, the fish will return.

why we need notake

It seems like a miracle and it’s a miracle we’d like to see performed out here. I’m going to let you work out for yourself the social, spiritual and economic benefits. I suspect that many of you will agree that we would be crazy not to campaign for Fish Forever."

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