Father of marine reserves Bill Ballantine has died

Bill Ballantine pushed for the first no-take marine reserve in New Zealand and the first of its kind in the world, the ...

Bill Ballantine pushed for the first no-take marine reserve in New Zealand and the first of its kind in the world, the Goat Island Marine Reserve at Leigh.

Tributes are flowing for marine conservationist and marine reserve pioneer Dr Bill Ballantine who died this week aged 78.

Minister for the Environment Dr Nick Smith described him as the father of marine conservation in New Zealand.

"He remained a forceful advocate for the protection of our marine environment and leaves behind a proud legacy."

Leigh marine reserve's teeming sea life is a big visitor drawcard.

Leigh marine reserve's teeming sea life is a big visitor drawcard.

Bill's funeral is in the Leigh Hall, North Auckland, on November 11 at noon.

Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come Victor Hugo once wrote.

And marine biologist Bill was the author of an idea to protect the marine environment that started in New Zealand at Leigh and went around the world.

The first and longest-serving director of the University of Auckland's Leigh Marine Laboratory, Bill was heavily involved in a six year battle for legislative change through Parliament that would see the passing of the 1971 Marine Reserves Act making no-take marine reserves possible.

Another six year fight followed to allow the first marine reserve in New Zealand and the world to be established in the waters below the Leigh Marine Laboratory at Goat Island in 1977.

Intended for research, visitors were also welcome and with its teeming sea life the Goat Island Marine Reserve quickly became popular with snorkelers and divers. It now attracts around 350,000 visitors a year.

It would be four more years before the next marine reserve was established, followed nine years later by the third. Even so there are now around 40, including the proposed new 620,000 square kilometre Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which will account for 15 per cent of New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

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There are now 6500 Marine Protected Areas around the world, encompassing around 3 per cent of the world's oceans.

However, less than 1 per cent of oceans are held in the "no-take" reserves Bill believed had any real conservation value.

Continuing to live close to the reserve when he retired, Bill was a regular visitor to the laboratory and remained totally dedicated and engaged with marine conservation, University of Auckland Institute of Marine Science Associate Professor Mark Costello says.

He was delighted with the recent announcement of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Costello says.

The two co-authored a research paper this year which examined the global effort to protect the world's oceans from over-fishing and biodiversity loss and found that more needed to be done.

In 1996 Bill was the recipient of the international Goldman Environmental Prize for Islands and Island Nations.

During his acceptance speech he likened our "lack of understanding of the importance of the oceans and the consequences of meddling in marine ecosystems" as like those of small children who have gotten the back off a TV and were with stirring around inside with a screw driver.

One of the lessons from the New Zealand experience in marine conservation, Bill concluded on his review of 50 years of marine reserves last year was the need for the separation of marine conservation from "resource management" which he felt was overwhelming focused on fisheries.

He was critical of what he saw as fisheries authorities blocking or delaying marine reserves

And despite improvements by the quota management system, Bill felt fisheries management in New Zealand was still far from satisfactory.

In spite of failing health, Bill attended the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Seminar last week where his work and the relevance of research at the Leigh marine reserve in the future management of the gulf was acknowledged, Hauraki Gulf Forum chairman John Tregidga says.

Bill fell ill on Sunday afternoon and was taken to hospital by the Auckland Westpac rescue helicopter. 

He was able to joke with hospital staff and died later that day surrounded by family members, his son Mike says. 

 - Stuff

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