I love summer! As often as possible, I’m at the beach, swimming and kayaking. My favourite North Island kayaking spot is the Mahurangi. It’s as beautiful as Abel Tasman National Park or Queen Charlotte Sound, but quieter, less hectic and cleaner. Those scenic green hills as a backdrop to the most beautifully coloured water; pohutukawa-shaded beaches; tinted sand; submarine rock gardens filled with vibrant vegetation and fish; natural and cultural heritage; even the occasional leaping shark or passing dolphin; and just before Christmas, orca – we’ve got it all.
And there’s more – kayaking coastal cliffs; points and bays; camping in the lee of the old creosoted woolshed at Lagoon Bay; circumnavigating Mahurangi, Te Haupa and Motuora Islands; visiting Moturekareka’s old shipwreck, snorkelling.
I’ll kayak to beautiful beaches with my primus and kettle to boil up a cup of tea, leaving only my footprints at Te Muri beach or up the Puhoi. The delights of the wider Mahurangi make me fit and feel good.
It seems there’s plenty of sea life, despite the history of shark fisheries, dredging, and commercial and recreational catch. I’ve seen casual fishermen and women pull up big kingfish, people catching kaimoana within minutes of casting a line, families collecting shellfish from the rocks. But there’s another unseen catch that’s affecting the plenitude of the Mahurangi waters, as well as our oceans around the world – ghost gear. Fishing nets that have been dumped, abandoned or lost continue to catch and kill, almost forever. According to some studies, certain types of lost fishing gear can persist in the environment for up to 600 years. They’re indiscriminate and enduring. UN agencies estimate that around the world about 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear enter the oceans every year. They suggest that ghost gear could make up to between 46 to 70 per cent of all macro plastic in our oceans when measured by weight, and impact between 5 and 30 per cent of harvestable fish stocks, killing or injuring around 650,000 marine animals annually.
When I was delaying my return to my launch spot at Hatfield’s Beach recently, paddling around south of the boat ramp, I encountered a tangled ghost net, weighed down and immovable, with plastic bottles for floats. The net itself was covered with algae, so it had been in the water for a while. But there were fish throughout the net, in various states of decay – all dead, all wasted, all lost. It was too heavy for me to retrieve. The net was a threat to fish, vessels and swimmers. But it seemed no one in authority wanted to know.
My calls to the Harbour Master, Coastguard and Fisheries NZ were futile. Most didn’t even return my call. Globally, as well as close to home, ghost nets lay to waste for no good reason, causing marine life to die in vain.