Parties for and against Waiheke Island's controversial Kennedy Point Marina are meeting today after tensions rose when construction started last month and concern was raised about kororā (little blue penguins) in the area.
Karen Saunders, a native bird rehabilitator and Native Bird Rescue general manager, opposes plans for the 186-berth scheme at Putaki Bay, Kennedy Point, but said hopes the meeting might clarify issues.
She is going to the 1pm gathering in the city at a council venue but was apprehensive about the fate of kororā that live in the area.
"Auckland Council, stakeholders, the developers, Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird, Dr John Cockrem and others are going," she said.
Bruce Plested, founder and chairman of the $6 billion listed Mainfreight, members of Ngāti Pāoa iwi and activist group SKP also oppose the scheme, which is this month awaiting a Supreme Court ruling.
Plested called the marina plans "a kind of madness, quite extreme, grotesque if you see what they are trying to do".
Cockrem is the Professor of Comparative Endocrinology at Massey University's school of veterinary science and he also opposes the marina development.
Kitt Littlejohn, a Kennedy Point Marina director, said today: "We are listening to what the community has been telling us about how much they care about the little blue penguins. We also care about the penguins and want to assure everyone that we have and will continue to do everything we can to protect them.
"To date we have carried out three site inspections to understand the likelihood of any penguins being in or around the construction footprint. There are indications of two possible burrows within the construction footprint and another two close by.
"The works that were scheduled for Monday were not taking place near any potential burrows. This work was put on hold Monday morning due to tidal restrictions and health and safety concerns," Littlejohn said.
"We welcome the opportunity to meet and work with special interest groups and to discuss our shared desire to protect the little blue penguins. We are meeting with local environmental groups today. "
In 2016, the council granted Kennedy Point Boatharbour a resource consent to build the marina, floating car parks, an office and other facilities including for sewage.
But protesters in kayaks blocked the path of a construction barge on Monday morning to stop work which they say could harm kororā.
Other protectors have organised a sit-in on the rock breakwater where kororā have burrows and they also want to stop the first stage of construction.
Tony Mair, the engineer developing at Kennedy Point, said he was not going to the 1pm meeting today.
Nor was he discussing the marina with anyone currently, he added.
Mair has previously said he has pre-sold 150 of the 186 berths, taking deposits starting from around $180,000 for a berth which are up to 16m in length. His business had more than 1000 people on its database and this would be the 18th marina or significant maritime infrastructure project he would develop.
Saunders said local storyteller Tanya Batt and Peter Forster had dressed as penguins and sung a protest song at the site, vowing to protect the kororā.
"We're gonna make a stand!" Batt and Forster sang.
Behind them was the large barge which arrived at the marina site last month, topped with a crane able to lift heavy equipment into place on the site.
Cockrem wrote to Cat Davis of planning and environmental services business 4sight Consulting, asking about the marina scheme and if a little penguin interest group had been formed.
"Does the development plan for disturbance or removal of existing penguin nesting habitat include provision for a person who has a Department of Conservation authority to pick up and move little penguins on Waiheke Island to be present at all times when work is being undertaken on the habitat?" Cockrem asked Davis.
He said he had DoC authorisation to train people to work with penguins on his behalf.
He also asked about a requirement for new penguin nesting opportunities to be provided before construction work begins.
"Does the development plan include a requirement for a bird protection plan to be prepared and approved by the consenting authority before construction work begins?" he also asked.
Saunders said she was "absolutely shocked" last week to receive a phone call from Davis, working for the marina developers.
"I had a call from an ecologist with 4Sight Consulting working for the Kennedy Point Marina asking me if I could go to Kennedy Point the next day and pull out any penguins that are in their burrows when they demolish the breakwater/rock wall," Saunders said.
Littlejohn said the business had a valid resource consent. Construction began last month because of that consent, he said.
The Department of Conservation says the native kororā is the world's smallest penguin, weighing about 1kg. It is at risk and declining in population and threats are dogs, predation and motor vehicles.
Little blue penguins were common in New Zealand, but most are now on offshore islands where there is less disturbance. Their paddle-like flippers are excellent for "flying" through the water at speeds of up to 6km/h, DoC says.
"Their population and range of has been declining in areas not protected from predators. Where predator control is in place, populations have been stable or increasing.
"Dogs are likely the greatest threat to little penguin. Cats, ferrets and stoats will also kill them. These threats have increased with more coastal development bringing more dogs and the clearance of traditional nesting sites," DoC says.