Behind the fight to keep Aotea/Great Barrier Island clean and green

Great Barrier Island, or Aotea, is known for its isolated location and pristine environment and moana.

But in recent years, the fight to keep the moana near the island protected has been in the spotlight.

Kelly Klink from the local iwi Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea has been leading the charge with the environmental group Protect Aotea.

Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea has called Great Barrier Island home for almost 1000 years.

After growing up on the mainland, Kelly Klink found her path back to Aotea.

"The water plays a significant role in our whakapapa, in our narrative we are a water people we are an island people tangata Moana."

Marine dumping near Aotea

For the last two years, Klink has been leading the fight to stop marine dumping near Aotea, when marinas and harbour exaction work is undertaken dredging takes place.

The dredged materials or sediments need to be disposed of - and one way of doing this is through dumping it out at sea.

This marine dumping takes place in the Exclusive Economic Zone - which is 12 nautical miles out to sea and is under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

In 2019, EPA granted consent to the dredging company Coastal Resources Limited consent to dump almost 250,000 cubic metres of dredged materials from harbours in Auckland, Northland and Waikato to a dumpsite 25km east of Great Barrier Island.

Coastal Resources Limited already has consent to dump 50,000 cubic metres at the dumpsite known as the Northern Disposal Area.

Klink says they're already feeling the impacts of dumping near their island and decided to appeal the EPA's consent - and took her case to the High Court In Wellington.

Kelly Klink.
Kelly Klink. Photo credit: The Hui

High Court battle

Taking on the EPA was no small task - as Klink geared up for one of the biggest battles she'd ever face. 

"It was really sort of David and Goliath sort of fight."

Going it alone meant Klink took on the risk of potentially having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of court costs if the appeal failed. 

"It's the right thing to do - sometimes we've just got to step outside the box and risk a little bit to do what's right, do what's right for the environment."

One of the kaitautoko firmly in her corner is her cousin Kiri Toki. The 31-year-old lawyer is based overseas - but had no hesitation in returning home to fight the consent.

"I was really lucky to grow up here lucky because it's our papa-kainga - the lifestyle you have to live out here you're very intimate with the environment."

But the hard work and sacrifice was worthwhile when the High Court ruled in Klink's favour. The EPA must now reconsider the consent and conditions - and engage with local iwi when doing so.

"For us it was a relief that these little people - a small group, remember - there's a thousand people on the island, a small group can do it," Klink said.

"Once we bind ourselves iwi and the community we came together, we're strong, we're unbreakable."

Protect Aotea is now calling for the practice of marine dumping to be completely banned across Aotearoa.

Toki says Aotearoa must address how protects its environment.

"The way we as a people manage our waste needs and interact with our environment needs to change, I think the little victory we've achieved I think brings life to the relevance of a Māori viewpoint."

Protesters march against the dumping.
Protesters march against the dumping. Photo credit: The Hui

Māori voice needed in decision-making

One of the key findings in the High Court decision was the EPA ignoring the advice of its own Māori Advisory Committee.

Klink says Māori need to be at the decision-making table - and not just part of a box ticking exercise.

"We go to these hui, hui, hui and they talk about mātauranga Māori - and I think, where are the Māori?"

However, Toki is proud of the leadership her cousin continues to show. 

"Māori people have a history of strong leadership, especially strong Māori leadership and it's no different for us in Ngāti Rehua."

And even though the fight is tiring, Klink knows it's vital for the future of her kainga on Great Barrier.

"We're thinking about our mokopuna, we're thinking about the future generations - what's our Moana going to look like if we don't do something now?"

The Hui