There's an early 2000s cover from my childhood of a classic Joni Mitchell environmental anthem, with the hook, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot." I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. Captain Planet was on television, Al Gore was running for US President. At home, Aotearoa was stuck in a ghastly public debate about iwi Māori kaitiaki over the foreshore and seabed. Overt and "casual" racism, sans today's meme war machine, fed misinformation and won that day.
Where there was amnesia about Te Tiriti from lawmakers and commentators, we also saw a growing sense of the need to protect our natural environment. Before Greta Thunberg was born, before we were really talking about climate change properly, we were starting to think about how we might need to make some plans to protect the natural world around us.
We could see trees being chopped down and knew that was bad. So we put in place some protections for national parks and created even more of them. We knew that our oceans, and in particular, Tikapa Moana, the Hauraki Gulf, was not doing too well. So in 2001, we made it a marine park.
What's a marine park? Well, it's a nice name for an area we've spent 20 years actively watching degrade. Up until yesterday, less than 0.3 per cent of it was properly protected. Dredging and dumping still continue through permit or technicality. You can still, very literally, find your way through the legislation to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. A floating one, as proposed at Pūtiki Bay, Kennedy Point.
Two quite important things happened in 2016. After one and a half decades of building frustration at the Hauraki Gulf Forum's mandate limited to simply reporting on our moana's decline without any powers to protect it, we saw the release of Sea Change.
At the time, it was a ground-breaking consensus report from mana whenua, researchers and elected representatives who made key recommendations to ensure the health of our gulf. That same year, Auckland Council approved a new marina – on an island exhausted from having just fought a different marina proposal - and floating carpark at Pūtiki Bay, Kennedy Point.
In 2020, while works had not started on the Kennedy Point Marina, the Hauraki Gulf Forum produced another of their three-yearly reports on the state of the gulf. It explicitly identified ocean sprawl – artificial structures such as marinas – as a huge risk to the health of our gulf. At the beginning of 2021, I stood with Ngāti Pāoa and locals in the lapping waves at Waiheke's Oneroa Beach as they placed rāhui on the waters surrounding the island. Once again, iwi Māori and community were leading the way.
But just a few months later, marina development began. Uri o Ngāti Pāoa began their occupation of Pūtiki Bay, Kennedy Point. Karen of Native Bird Rescue received a call from a contractor to the developer asking her to remove kororā, little blue penguins, from the rock wall. Originally, fewer than 10 were noted as living there. It now looks closer to 30. With Ngāti Pāoa, Karen sounded the alarm to council, Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird and locals.
We're now in the middle of open consultation on a new penguin management plan. But on Thursday June 17, a reported 26 police turned up to hold back protectors as the developers removed part of the rock wall. On Friday 18 June leading kororā expert Professor John Cockrem released his preliminary assessment asking for work to stop until things could be properly evaluated.
Legality isn't always the same as morality, particularly when our shared values as a community change. Courts have found Ngāti Pāoa were not thoroughly and properly consulted on the Kennedy Point development.
The Hauraki Gulf Forum notes, in so many words, that this kind of sprawl is irreconcilable with our aim of protection. There's rāhui in place to restore Waiheke's waters. One of the country's leading penguin experts tells us this could further threaten an already threatened native penguin population. What is technically legal here isn't what upholds Te Tiriti, protection of kororā, respect for the rāhui or restoration of our Hauraki Gulf. That is unjust.
One good test for new law or policy is whether it would stop things we consider unjust from ever happening again. The Government's response to Sea Change protects only 18 per cent, instead of the recommended 30 per cent. And it continues to allow "corridor" bottom trawling despite recommendations to completely ban it.
There is, however, commitment to stronger engagement with mana whenua. From Pūtiki Bay to the Hauraki and beyond, we'll keep working for our community's most ambitious aspirations and more.