Interview: Stew Robertson, Abel Tasman Ecotours/Tasman Bay Guardians
Stew Robertson has been a participant in research workshops for projects focused in Tasman-Golden Bay. He is involved with the Nelson Biodiversity Forum and founded the Tasman Bay Guardians in 2017.
“Our aim with Tasman Bay Guardians is to encourage marine conservation, collaboration and education in the region. We’re working with the local community and treaty partners to restore a healthy, thriving marine environment and improve in the health of Te Tai o Aorere/Tasman Bay.
“The Guardians came about because Tasman Bay’s marine environment has been in decline for decades. This is mostly due to human activities that put pressure on our coast, including changing land use, pollution, fishing, aquaculture, the port, and increased visitor numbers. On top of all this, there’s increasing pressures from population growth, climate change and ocean acidification.
“We’re keen to monitor the current state of the ecosystem because having a baseline is essential to judge whether things are recovering or degrading, and how quickly. So in May 2018, we commissioned an environmental report from Davidson Environmental Limited that was funded by Sustainable Seas as it aligned well with their research.
“The report described the level of sediment at three estuaries along the Abel Tasman coast and recommended that the local Council and DOC develop a peer-reviewed plan to manage these catchments. We believe that the plan’s primary aim should be to reduce and minimise sedimentation before these estuaries – which are so important to Tasman’s ecology, society, cultural values and economy – are degraded even more.
“So far, there’s been limited action. Another community group has sprung up, the Sustainable Marahau Society, focused on protecting their local environment, and they are working with the Tasman District Council and forestry companies to change practices. Iwi landowners have already committed to planting more native trees instead of pine plantations.
“We [the Guardians] are working with iwi and the wider community to monitor sedimentation rates, marine debris, kīna barrens and potential for marine restoration in the Bay.
“The Nelson Biodiversity Strategy gives us a mandate to lead the marine spatial management process for Te Tai o Aorere. We’re proposing an integrated marine spatial plan, but we have a lot to learn about how this process might work and the many stakeholders involved. We need to identify the values and aspirations of iwi, industry, recreational fishermen, divers and the local community.
“We’re working with Sustainable Seas researchers like Aneika Young, a Kaiawhina Māori Cultural Advisor at Cawthron Institute, to learn more about these processes.
“Ultimately, we hope to understand terrestrial inputs better and create legislation to minimise the impact of sediment in the region. Following our core values of conservation, education and collaboration, we hope to create a culture of marine advocacy in our community. We hope this will gain us support in developing a system of marine protected areas, restoration zones, fishing zones and codes of conduct, to ensure our marine ecosystem is healthy and resilient for future generations.”
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