Forest & Bird, iwi want Astrolabe marine reserve

The Astrolabe Reef has begun to recover following a ban on fishing (Darryl Torckler)
The Astrolabe Reef has begun to recover following a ban on fishing (Darryl Torckler)

New Zealand conservation organisation Forest & Bird is calling on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy to keep the current exclusion zone for fishing at the Astrolabe Reef for at least two more years.

While its main focus is on ensuring the wreckage of the Rena is removed from the reef, it wants assurances that even if that doesn't happen, the area will remain off limits to commercial or recreational fishers.

Local tangata whenua, Nga Hapu o Motiti, say they have rights to Motiti Island and the waters surrounding it -- and have now joined forces with Forest & Bird to push through a temporary closure of the adjacent Astrolabe Reef.

Forest & Bird chief executive Hone McGregor says preventing commercial and recreational fishing would help replenish marine biodiversity in the area.

(Darryl Torckler)

He believes the ban in the area has seen a major recovery in marine life over the past four years, and says regardless of whether or not the Rena remains grounded on the Astrolabe Reef, the exclusion zone needs to stay in place to see continued improvements in quantities of marine life.

Te Atarangi Sayers of Nga Hapu o Motiti is advising his community to support Forest & Bird's appeals to the council and to Mr Guy.

"It would be heartbreaking to see the wreck left in place, but it would be far worse to stop marine recovery by allowing the premature resumption of fishing," he said.

"Even before the Rena went aground, Tangata whenua had noticed the depletion of fish stocks from the area.

"Combining an already declining fish stock with significant pollution from oil, cargo, debris and other contaminants has put an already threatened species under even more stress."

Submissions on Nga Hapu o Motiti's application for temporary closure of the Astrolabe Reef close on March 14, at which point Mr Guy will make his decision.