Owners of islands in Hauraki Gulf calling for more marine protection

The owners of a group of islands in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf are pushing for marine protection in the Gulf to be significantly expanded, saying much of the sea life around their islands has disappeared in just a few decades. 

An hour from Auckland's waterfront via motorboat, the Noises island group has been owned by the Neureuter family since 1933 when Sue Neureuter's great-uncle bought it from a retired ship captain for 200 pounds.

Her family has spent summers on the island for generations, and Sue remembers a childhood spent exploring the surrounding waters, then abundantly rich with sea life. 

"There would just be clouds of fish, all around you," she told Newshub on a recent trip to the Noises. 

But much of that sea life has disappeared in the past few decades, largely due to overfishing, sedimentation, and pollution. 

Crayfish are now functionally extinct in many parts of the Gulf. They normally feed on kina, but without crayfish, kina are taking over the area and destroying the kelp forests which used to flourish.

"I've watched it deteriorating all my life, we all have," Sue said. 

The creation of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park 20 years ago was supposed to stem the degradation of the area, but just 0.3 percent of it is actually protected so sea life has continued to decline.

"People think this is normal. This is not normal at all.

"It's a highly impacted environment," Tom Trinski, Auckland Museum's head of natural sciences, told Newshub.

"If we really want recovery we need to do something different to what we're doing now, because the trajectory is not good.

"We don't actually have to actively do anything. We just have to give it a break," he said.

There is precedent for a marine conservation project to start at The Noises. New Zealand's first predator-free island was part of the group - Maria Island.

Sue has engaged iwi and interest groups to develop a plan and is hoping she can bring opponents and sceptics of increased marine protection on board.

"There's one thing common to all of us; we all want abundance," she said.

The Green Party has announced it wants at least 30 percent of New Zealand's oceans to be protected by 2030.