The Marlborough District Council has backed the “marine team” at one of Blenheim’s colleges in their bid to set up marine guardians in Marlborough to better protect the region’s “jewel in the crown”.
Marlborough Mayor John Leggett has written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for a “collaborative approach” to marine protection in the Marlborough Sounds.
The letter comes after a group of Marlborough Girls’ College students wrote to the prime minister in June asking for special legislation to set up a Marine Guardian body, similar to the marian guardians set up in Kaikōura.
Ardern wrote back to the year 12 and 13 students saying she was impressed by their work and passion, telling them to “keep up the good work”, but the council has now doubled down on the proposal, saying it should be considered a “high priority”.
The girls idea is to have marine guardians in Marlborough, with the power to make a suite of marine orders, such as “no take” areas, line-only fishing areas, no sea bed disturbance and traditional Māori fishing reserves.
It would be a group of iwi, government, council and members elected from the community, making it more of a bottom-up, rather than a top-down, approach.
But the students don’t want years to pass before the group is established, like what happened in Kaikōura, they want the legislation pushed through so the Sounds can get protected before it’s too late.
Marlborough Mayor Leggett said it was time everyone was brought together to start conversations around the future management of the Marlborough Sounds.
“There’s so many competing interests in relation to the Marlborough Sounds. It’s about bringing all the parties together.”
Following the students’ presentation to council in July, councillors gave a strong lead that they wanted a letter written to the prime minister, Leggett said.
Some experts had drawn similarities between the students’ plan and how the Great Barrier Reef was protected; drawing a line around the precious area and working out how to protect it later.
Kaikōura Marine Guardian chairman Larnce Wichman said the special legislation had helped them to create the biggest marine reserve touching New Zealand land.
The Kaikōura Marine Protection Act was passed in 2014 and Wichman said it took them a decade of work to get to that point.
He was concerned the Government would not take to the students’ request for special legislation, without clearly understanding what would be legislated, he said.
“There needs to be something tangible to put legislation around.
“If they could achieve some of the smaller items, to get a foot in the door, to get a good idea of how the process works, it would be a big help to further implement measures in the Sounds.”
Te Korowai, an “integrated community group”, spent years planning, researching and consulting on a whale sanctuary, taiāpure, mātaitai and marine sanctuaries before they approached the Government asking for it to be legislated on, Wichman said.
“We weren’t asking the Government for special legislation, but they saw what we were presenting and the work that we had done and decided that was the best way to put in the protections.
“I’m sure the community will support them. Obviously if we can support them in any way in providing some ways forward, or information that can assist them, I would certainly be happy to work with them on that.”
The students’ idea had been backed by an existing marine group in the Sounds.
Marlborough Marine Futures co-ordinator Peter Lawless said the idea was not so far-fetched, with similarities to how the Great Barrier Reef was protected 40 years ago.
The students had proposed the Sounds Marine Guardians would have the power to form regulations, whereas other marine guardian bodies in New Zealand had only ever been advisory in nature, he said.
Lawless had not seen a model where guardians were elected from members of the community, he said.
“What is important is that it’s a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach. That grounds it much more strongly within the community.”
In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, the area was protected and a body was established to take charge before the specifics of the regulations were worked out, he said.
“You draw a line around the area the way that they have, you say it’s really special and that it has to be looked after.”
But no model exactly matched what the college marine team had proposed, he said.
In 2016, recreational fishing parks were mooted for the Marlborough Sounds. They were to be included under new legislation called the Marine Protected Areas Act, which was proposed to replace the Marine Reserves Act 1971.
Council coastal scientist Dr Steve Urlich said the students’ proposal was consistent with the previous government’s proposal, which was about creating a range of different protection mechanisms and running inclusive consultation processes.
Council supported that submission at the time, he said.
“This government hasn’t yet made a call as to whether they’re going to reactivate that process,” he said.
The students wanted to take action to protect the Sounds, rather than wait for a new national act to be passed, he said.