Since the triennial environment report State of our Gulf 2014 was published last month, there has been much discussion about the continuing degradation of the Hauraki Gulf as a result of human activities. Constant monitoring of our marine environment is essential and the Committee for Auckland applauds the work to develop a strategic framework for positive and sustainable change in the Gulf.

We also look forward to recommendations in the Hauraki Gulf Spatial Plan, but it is not due for another year. Meanwhile, the downward trend of our marine environment continues.

Our water quality is being severely impacted by increased contamination while invasive marine species pose an alarming threat. This should concern all New Zealanders.

However, Auckland seems to have almost overlooked the fact we have three harbours. Surely the Manukau and Kaipara harbours are also central to its identity as the City of Sails?

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With the archipelago of islands in the Hauraki Gulf, they represent huge economic and recreational potential and a broad eco-tourism opportunity should we fully showcase our maritime activities and offer our clean, green image to the world.

The health of all three harbours is fundamental to supporting the vision of Auckland as the world's most liveable city.

Then there is the port and cargo-handling facilities on 77ha of New Zealand's most valuable waterfront land. The long-term impact and options for a cargo-handling port in the Waitemata should be an important cornerstone of any future marine spatial plan. The Port of Auckland's plans for reclamation will lead to narrowing of the harbour and the loss of waterfront views, the impact of which will be felt across commercial and recreational sectors.

With the need for substantial investment in the port and its connective transport infrastructure over the next few years, we need to ask: Is this the best use for our prime real estate? Are there sensible alternatives?

To ensure the best decisions are being made beyond a 30-year horizon, we need to undertake a complete investigation of the port and cargo-handling facilities now. It should include opportunities to optimise use of the current land area and what facilities Auckland will need over the long-term.

Management of Auckland's harbour assets requires identifying the opportunities and issues affecting public, customary, cultural and commercial use of the waters.

The work of the Hauraki Gulf Spatial Plan is a good start. But a single plan will allow for more timely planning; resolve data and knowledge gaps; provide consistent application of scientific methodology and reduce potential consultant and planning fatigue. Done sequentially, one plan would offer cost savings.

A single marine development agency with appropriate powers will ensure effective supervision and administration of those assets.

We must be sure to treat Auckland's harbours as key assets to create a city worthy of the next generation.

Heather Shotter is the executive director of Committee for Auckland, an independent, non-profit organisation established with the aim of making Auckland one of the world's great places to live, work and play.