Proud to be kelp huggers

00:23, Mar 08 2012
tdn scott
New Plymouth women Anne Scott and Elise Smith are quite happy to be called kelp huggers

Mention plans for a marine reserve and those in the fishing fraternity become passionately vocal about their favourite place to throw a line.

Some will fear losing secret spots to put down craypots and others will burn with rage about not being able to net the bounty of the sea for commercial purposes. There will be impassioned speeches, submissions, public debates and bitter disputes against preserving an area of coast for all time.

The fisher folk's fury will be aimed at the "kelp huggers". They are, of course, the marine version of tree huggers, and in Taranaki, New Plymouth women Anne Scott and Elise Smith are quite happy to give themselves the aquatic label.

These women are original members of the Nga Motu Marine Reserve Society, formed in 1997 to promote the idea of a network of small reserves on the Taranaki coast. Their original aim was setting up the Tapuae Marine Reserve on the western end of New Plymouth. After 11 years of determination, the 1404-hectare reserve was opened on May 8, 2008.

Now the marine society is reaching out its tentacles to help others through science, education and support.

This year the society wrote a submission backing the proposed marine reserve in Kaikoura, it co- hosted a Royal Society primary school teacher fellowship recipient to do transect studies, and also had some timely advice for those working towards a reserve in the Bay of Islands.


But first, let's find out how the Tapuae Marine Reserve came to be.

It all began with a plan to protect the Sugar Loaf Islands from drilling. That aim was reached and in 1997, an act of Parliament was passed to make it a marine protected area, which still allows recreational fishing.

"In the original proposal, there was a small marine reserve area tacked on the south west extension," says Anne. "In the interests of getting the Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area bill through, the marine reserve was flagged." But Taranaki environmentalist Peter Winter never gave up on the marine reserve idea and passed that same passion on to Anne. Peter died in 2004, but his dream was realised four years later when legislation gave the area the highest possible protection, turning it into an absolute no-take zone. When Anne and Elise talk about those 11 years working towards that goal, they choose their words carefully. "In the end, with a multitude of compromises with fishermen, iwi, stakeholders..." Anne begins.

But Elise exchanges the word "compromises" for "discussions" and extends the bounty of stakeholders to recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen, also includes iwi, adds in DOC and explains the reserve is a breeding ground for both warehou and crayfish. "We were naively persistent and that's what got us there," Anne says.

"The public were very supportive - they wrote us lots of submissions to support us," Elise continues. The hapu of the area, Nga Mahanga a Tairi, backed the plan all the way.

Anne nods: "They wanted it to be a marine reserve because it's a sacred area and they don't fish there because of a lot of cultural reasons." The society also kept discussions open with the fishing community.

"Some of the fishermen are very supportive of the idea," Elise says. But both women acknowledge that people don't like more regulations.

Anne says some people liked to harp back to the good old days and often said: "We've always done it that way." She is dubious. Elise is a scientist, with a deep love of nature; one learnt through getting to know species and their habits and habitats.

"It's kaitiakitanga (guardianship). If you know more about a place and understand it, you will want to look after it. When you know more about creatures, you are more empathetic about them and you don't want to squash them." This is where Warren Smart steps into the picture. He's the fellowship recipient and has just finished a two-term stint doing transect studies in the marine reserve.

You might have spotted him wielding a frame of wood and a camera in the rock pools, where he has been quietly, gently, observing life inside a quarter-meter square.

"The quieter you sit, the more a rock pool will come to life," says Warren, who teaches at West End School in New Plymouth.

"There's a wide range of species in the marine reserve and I get excited finding different things and big populations of creatures that I can now name. The most exciting was finding eight green chitons on a single stone not much bigger than my hand - not that my family understood my enthusiasm.

"The other highlight was spotting a wandering tattler, which I now know is a rare visitor to New Zealand flying in from Alaska or Eastern Siberia."

He took a class from his school down to the rock pools to reap the benefits of his new knowledge. "They really enjoyed looking at and learning about the different things they saw." The data that he has collected will be online on the Tapuae Marine Reserve Society website for teachers around Taranaki to use. Elise says Warren's work, with help from co-host the Taranaki Regional Council, means other teachers in Taranaki can do inter-tidal transects in their areas. Education is a big emphasis for the marine reserve society and so are comparisons.

"The main point of a marine reserve is so you can have an area that's not being interfered with so you can see if it's getting better. It's a control site," she says. The need for comparisons drew Elise, the scientist, into the marine reserve challenge.

She lived in Plymouth, England, before coming to the "new" version called Aotearoa about 20 years ago.

In the original Plymouth, nearly all the fish landed went to France or overseas and in Scotland, where her parents lived, the waters had been over-fished. "When I came here I heard how much sea life there used to be. It sounded like things had changed so dramatically," Elise says.

She heard of a woman who would go down to Urenui Bay, throw a rock into the water, and stun a snapper for dinner. Dance teacher Val Deakin, also a member of the marine society, used to go down to Kawaroa reef and catch large crayfish. "You have to have evidence of change," Elise says.

Anne, who grew up having camping holidays around the Taranaki coast, describes herself as a local person. "I'm a Taranaki person who feels passionate about the coast. I'm just doggedly positive - you have to be," she says, a glass whale tale hanging from her neck.

Over the years she and Elise have worked so closely together (they finish each other's sentences) they bubble with the same enthusiasm for marine reserves and, strangely, even look alike.

But they do have different inspirations.

Anne was greatly moved by Peter Winter and then by another man, Dr Bill Ballantine, a marine biologist, who was instrumental in setting up the "no takes" New Zealand's Marine Reserve Act in 1971. Talking from his home in Leigh, Bill says what he wants to see happen around the coast has already happened on land. There is a network of national parks and forests and now he wants that for our marine habitat.

"We have got about 30 marine reserves," he says.

"The ones around the mainland of New Zealand, compared to the national parks they are fiddly little bits."

Bill says that every time someone proposes a new marine park there's a big fuss. "People come out of the woodwork and shout about their rights and five years afterwards you won't find them." He thinks it's time that people stopped talking about individual marine reserves and started talking about systems and networks, just like the national parks and state highways.

For science, education and recreation, Bill would like to see 10 per cent of New Zealand's coastline in marine reserves. For the best outcome of all, especially for boosting fishery reserves, Bill says we should be looking at 30 per cent of New Zealand's coastline preserved for all time.

But, yes, he knows he knows his first figure is more palatable and more achievable.


How to set up a marine reserve:

1. Set up a legal entity, like a society.

2. Get support from local people, especially iwi and hapu.

3. Gather historical evidence - oral and written - of what the area used to be like in terms of fishing and marine life.

4. Do a recreational survey of users.

5. You will need to have a scientific baseline data of the area.

6. Learn all the regulations about marine reserves.

7. Ask DOC for technical support.

8. Tap into local experts for help on legal, scientific, surveying matters. You might find sympathetic companies or people will to help.

9. Keep discussions open with all stakeholders in the community.

10. Get community buy-in - garner support from everywhere and get people to write submissions of support.

11. Always, remember to think ahead about the educational aspect of a marine reserve. You will have a living, protected classroom and nursery for scientists in your own backyard - or nearby.

12. Never give up. It can take many, many years to establish a marine reserve.


1) Limpets trap water under their shells to avoid drying out when they are exposed to the sun at low tide.

2) A paua is unable to clot blood, so even the tiniest cut can result in bleeding to death. It is therefore recommended that you measure a paua on the rock because prising one off a rock can damage it and even kill it.

3) Barnacle larvae are shrimp-like creatures. They attach their heads to rocks or other big objects in the sea. They do this by excreting a cement-like mixture from their antennae. Once attached, they stick their feet out of the shell to feed at high tide. There are three types of barnacle found in the Tapuae Marine Reserve.

4) There are three protected marine areas in Taranaki. Along with the new Tapuae Marine Reserve and the Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area, there is Parininihi Marine Reserve in north Taranaki. Scientists consider the latter and its Pariokariwa Reef as one of world's top spots for sponges.

5) The rules for protecting the Tapuae reserve are strict. The removal or disturbance of any living or non-living marine resource is prohibited, except as necessary for monitoring or research. Dredging, dumping, discharging any matter or building structures in the area is banned. People breaking the rules could face a $250,000 fine and/or a three-month jail sentence, and/or the confiscation of their boat and fishing gear.

The Links marine-and-coastal/marine- protected-areas/marine-reserves-a- z/tapuae/

zketenewplymouth.–motu– marine–reserve–society about–us/mountains–to–sea– conservation–trust

Taranaki Daily News