Poll: Kiwis keen for 'tourist tax' to help cash-strapped DoC

A Newshub-Reid Research poll has revealed most New Zealanders support a "tourist tax" to help fund infrastructure and the Department of Conservation.

Sixty-four percent of people think overseas tourists should pay a $50 levy at the border while 23 percent don't support it, and the rest don't know.

DoC is so cash-strapped volunteer groups are stepping up to fill the gaps.

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The ocean surrounding Kapiti Island is full of life, having been protected from any fishing for almost 30 years.

But now Ben Knight, from the Guardians of Kapiti Marine Reserve, says that protection has waned and the reserve is a sitting duck.

"It's a bit like a lolly jar sitting in the middle of the playground and the headmaster's gone home, at the moment," he told Newshub.

DoC says its compliance boat does about 30 hours a month at Kapiti Marine Reserve but Mr Knight says it's just not enough.

"It's not an easy job, I totally acknowledge that, it's challenging," he said.

"On a day like this it's windy, it's pretty cool out here, but this is perfect poaching weather if you ask me."

Mr Knight is calling on local fishers, divers and boaties to form a community patrol to guard the reserve and report poaching.

"We're not planning to be a militia out here, we just want to be the eyes on the water," he said.

DoC's only patrol boat is based at Mana Island, which is around 23km south of Kapiti Island.

"If somebody chose to come out here today and intentionally or accidentally have a fish in the marine reserve, there's no one to stop them," Mr Knight said.

In the Newshub-Reid Reseach poll, a majority of National voters supported a $50 tourist tax - as did those from the Greens, Labour, and New Zealand First.

Poll: Kiwis keen for 'tourist tax' to help cash-strapped DoC
Photo credit: Newshub.

At 22 square kilometres, Kapiti Marine Reserve is one of the largest in the country. It's also one of the oldest.

The reserve is a drawcard not just for local residents but also overseas tourists, who make up 40 percent of visitors to the island.

"I think it's a bit of a no-brainer as tourism is going off in the country, that those who enjoy our natural resources are helping to fund that," Kapiti deputy mayor Janet Holborow told Newshub.

But Tourism Minister Paula Bennett warns a tax on tourists could turn them away.

"We have got a really tiny percentage of the international tourist market, I mean less than 1 percent kind of thing, so we need to be looking at how we continue to attract those people," she told Newshub.

DoC's funding in real terms was $478 million in 2007. It dropped almost $50 million the following year and despite recent increases, it's still below what it was 10 years ago.

In the same timeframe, annual visitor numbers have gone from 2.5 million to 3.5 million.

The Government has also given one-off funding of $178 million for toilets, carparks and camping facilities, but conservation groups say that won't help DoC do its core job - protecting wildlife.

"We must actually be funding for that core work, on the ground, at the conservation forefront. That's where we need the work," Forest and Bird spokesperson Kevin Hackwell told Newshub.

And local groups like those in Kapiti are happy to help out - they just want DoC on board too.