Professor Simon Thrush briefs Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage while watching a live camera feed on marine activity surrounding the mussel bed.
Divers Mallory Sea, left, and Dr Jenny Hillman operated the underwater camera.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage got a first-hand look at efforts to restore the Hauraki Gulf, just a few kilometres from the Mahurangi coastline.
The minister boarded the Auckland University vessel Hawere at Sandspit on February 29 to view efforts to establish mussel beds close to Motuora Island.
The mussel project is being undertaken by Revive Our Gulf – a partnership of scientists and environmental advocates, who hope to improve water quality and increase the abundance and diversity of marine life in the gulf.
Mussels are renowned for their capabilities as “filter feeders”, whereby they feed on sediment and other impurities in the water, improving its purity and clarity.
At the same time, the beds provide an excellent habitat for young fish.
On reaching Motuora Island, Auckland University divers, Dr Jenny Hillman and Mallory Sea, plunged into the ocean equipped with a video camera. Live images of a mussel bed were fed back to Hawere for the minister and members of her entourage to view.
They were provided with a running commentary from Professor Simon Thrush, director of Auckland University’s Institute of Marine Science.
Revive Our Gulf volunteers explained that to form the mussel beds, tonnes of mussels are tossed overboard from barges. Once in the ocean, mussels will crawl together and attach to one another and to stones and bits of shell on the sea floor, eventually forming a mussel bed.
A challenge was to try to encourage the mussels to reproduce and Revive our Gulf was continuing to refine its approach to make beds more sustainable.
Revive Our Gulf trustee Bill Davies said ensuring the mussels had babies was crucial.
“There is no way we can restore the whole Hauraki Gulf by scrounging mussels and borrowing boats from whoever we can and dumping mussels in the sea 10 tonnes at a time,” he said.
Ms Sage said she was impressed by the practical nature of the project, which aimed to establish 1000 square kilometres of mussel beds. She also praised its collaborative nature – drawing on expertise and support from various groups including The Nature Conservancy, Auckland University and local iwi Ngati Manuhiri.
She said the health of the gulf depended on the restoration of the mussel beds because of the basic habitat they provided for other marine life to build upon.
She said the Government was supporting Revive Our Gulf with funding from the Department of Conservation and Ministry of Fisheries. She added that it was equally important for the Government to ensure current environmental legislation did not unnecessarily impede creation of the beds.
Ms Sage’s visit came in the wake of the State of our Gulf 2020 report released by the Hauraki Gulf Forum late last month.
The report lamented that environmental degradation continued in the Gulf with sediment, chemicals and plastics continuing to wash into the sea at an alarming rate. The number of marine pests has more than doubled since 2000 and there have been sharp rises in the number of threatened seabird species. Meanwhile, crayfish and cockles have become harder to find.
About 80 years ago, mussel beds were found extensively throughout the Gulf, but commercial dredging operations virtually eliminated them with devastating consequences for the marine environment.
Sage unrepentant on landfill
Meanwhile, while lauding the efforts of Revive Our Gulf to improve water quality, Ms Sage had no regrets in approving a land purchase for the construction of a rubbish tip in the Dome Valley, which critics say risks polluting the Kaipara Harbour for centuries to come.
Ms Sage, in her capacity as Land Information Minister, granted Overseas Investment Office approval for Waste Management to purchase 1000ha of farm and forestry land, just north of Dome valley, for a landfill.
Asked if she was confident leachate from the landfill would not end up polluting the Kaipara, Ms Sage said such questions were a matter for Auckland Council to examine in detail as part of its resource consent process. She was sure Council would look at the science and the expert evidence.
“It has nothing to do with my role with the overseas investment legislation, which was only in relation to the purchase of the land,” she said.
Ms Sage added that New Zealand continued to need landfills but nevertheless, the Government sought to reduce waste going into them. She said a key aspect of
Government policy going forward was to increase landfill levies to ensure more revenue was available for recycling and waste minimisation.
Ms Sage reiterated her opposition to a waste-to-energy plant as an alternative to landfill.
“People who are suggesting waste-to-energy are really wanting to treat the atmosphere as a dump, because waste-to-energy produces toxic by-products,” she said.