The Little Barrier Supporters trust has raised concerns about plans to allow a limited number of “nature tourists” to visit the island.
The remoteness and relative isolation of Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier) could be about to change if recommendations in a Conservation Management Plan are adopted.
The Department of Conservation and Ngati Manuhiri are promoting the plan, which includes an annual allowance for “nature tourism” visitors.
At a hearing in Warkworth on November 8, Little Barrier Island Supporters Trust representative Lyn Wade said that overall, the supporters trust was happy with the plan.
“Our main concern, however, is around the effects that nature tourism might have on the integrity of the island,” she said. “Mitigation is rarely an improvement.
“A nature reserve is quite different from a national park because it is first and foremost for the flora and fauna. People come second.”
Ngati Manuhiri Settlement Trust chief executive Mook Hohneck said the intent was obviously not to see the island over-run by tourists, but it was an opportunity for DOC to draw an income from the nature reserve, which could then be put back into conservation.
The plan suggests limiting visitor numbers to 420 people a year, with a maximum of 20 people a day.
The island is currently off-limits to the general public. As a result of this high level of protection, it has one of the highest levels of fauna species diversity for forest habitats in New Zealand. It was home to the last remaining population of hihi, from which all mainland populations are now descended, and is an important habitat for wetapunga and the recently re-introduced kakapo.
Ngati Manuhiri is recognised as kaitiaki of the nature reserve, and shares a co-governance role with the Auckland Conservation Board.
Under its settlement claim, Ngati Manuhiri gifted the nature reserve back to the people of NZ, but retained a 1.2 hectare site at Te Maraeroa, which is covered by a conservation covenant.
The Conservation Management Plan is expected to be adopted later next year.