The Gulf and you

By Andy Kenworthy

Today SBN launches GulfX, our major new marine restoration programme. To kick things off we surveyed the region’s business people. We asked them about their relationship with Tikapa Moana, the Hauraki Gulf. What did they tell us?

The good news is there’s a lot of love for the Gulf out there. Three quarters of our 300 respondents agreed with the statement: “I love living near the Hauraki Gulf and have a strong connection with it”. Most others said they like living near the water. Our respondents said they visit, swim, kayak and fish, among many more activities.

It seems this love is also getting expressed in other ways. Eighty percent of respondents said they either frequently or occasionally pick up litter. Two thirds said they were using their car less to cut pollution. Top priorities for conserving the Gulf were water quality (40%) and fish and fish stocks (just under a third).

But only about one in five of respondents said they had done a beach clean or planted trees along waterways. Many businesses are getting their people into action. In fact most people who had cleaned up or planted said they did it through their workplace.

But there may be more to concern us in people’s perception of the Gulf. Two thirds of our respondents believe the Gulf to be in good, or fair condition. Only one third feel its state is intermittent or poor. This is during a summer when Auckland Council’s SafeSwim system warned that two beaches in central Auckland, a beach on the North Shore and one on Waiheke Island were dangerously contaminated by human and animal faeces.

The study found reasonable awareness of how carelessness on land can foul our oceans. Land clearance and littering were the most cited culprits. But there was less knowledge on the toxic accumulation of heavy metals like copper and zinc in the seas. Their presence in tyres, brake pads, unpainted galvanised steel roofing and anti-foul paints is not widely known. When they break-down they get washed into the sea with the storm water.

Two thirds of our respondents said a lack of free time limited what they could do to help the Gulf. Most believed responsibility for all this is shared with everyone. But some felt national and local government have a special role to play.

Rachel Brown is SBN CEO.

She says: “Sharing and refining our knowledge and beliefs about the state of Tikapa Moana, the Hauraki Gulf, is vital to GulfX’s success. The experts tell us the Gulf is in dire need of our help. We must overcome any complacency about the problems that lurk beneath the surface.”

Five facts about the state of the Gulf

Dwindling fish numbers

After decades of over-harvesting, estimates suggest the Gulf now supports less than 45% of the fish it did in 1925. Snapper and rock lobster populations have been badly affected. John Dory, Gurnard and Trevally are also causes for concern. Fishing in the Gulf has reduced snapper catch rates by 80%. Crayfish numbers have dwindled to 20% of their 1945 levels. They are regionally the lowest in New Zealand.

Lack of protection

The vast majority of the Gulf has only very limited legal protection. Six marine reserves were created under the 1971 Marine Reserves Act. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act introduced new protections in 2000. But only one new marine reserve has been created since then.


Between 2014 and 2016, staff and volunteers from the Watercare Clean-up Trust spent around 6,000 hours removing around 882,000m3 marine litter from the coast. The litter was dominated by plastics.

Endangered birds

Just 40 NZ Fairy Terns remain. It is New Zealand’s most endangered species. Others seabirds have been put at risk, mostly by commercial fishing. These include the Black Petrel and the Flesh-Footed Shearwater.

Dirty water

About half the beaches monitored in Auckland from 2007 to 2016 breached the guidelines for contamination from potentially harmful bacteria at least once. Sources include industrial pollution, farm run off and sewage overflow into the sea.