Four years ago the Hauraki Gulf Forum's "State of our Gulf" report warned of widespread decline in the condition of its water and birds and marine life. A seminar next Tuesday will look at the responses and prospects for change.
If you took two journeys around the Gulf, one in 2011 and one today, you'd notice some important changes. Container ships would be going a lot slower, 10.9 knots on average compared to 14.6. That is a response to the loss of resident Bryde's whales, which were washing up ship-struck at a rate of two per year.
All four shipping industry associations recently committed to an internationally accepted 10 knot target speed whenever possible. It is in a Ports of Auckland transit protocol and monitoring information is shared quarterly.
Black petrels confined to Great and Little Barrier islands were assessed as being at risk from capture on long line hooks, which was occurring 14 times more than the population of 2700 breeding pairs could sustain. Today the 55 long-line fishing boats operating in the Gulf have embraced seabird-smart fishing practices; attend training courses, use vessel management plans, mitigation and monitoring measures.
Islands that were in Crown ownership have been transferred to iwi and back again. On Hauturu/ Little Barrier, the New Zealand storm petrel - presumed extinct for 100 years - has been discovered breeding in its forested valleys: their backs now covered by two conservation traditions - nature preservation and kaitiakitanga.
Out in the middle of the Firth of Thames scientists have found dissolved inorganic nitrogen increasing at 5 per cent a year, more than can be explained by riverine or oceanic inputs. This is a surprising result which is attracting careful scrutiny from Dairy NZ and the Waikato Regional Council.
Rotoroa Island has been transformed from an abandoned Salvation Army alcoholics' retreat into the latest conservation destination: a Next Foundation-backed restoration project, a partnership with Auckland Zoo.
Nearby, new mussel reefs are emerging from barren muds: 3.5 million mussels have been grown for supermarket sale and donated to a community trust by industry. The area is attracting fish and inspiring an underwater restoration movement.
There's a new optimism emerging around the Gulf and it's being created by a willingness to talk about difficult issues and work together to solve problems.
Typically businesses look to protect and extend their use "rights" through lobbying and legal means but this does not necessarily create a social licence to operate, as we have seen in public responses to fishing, dairy and port development.
At the same time we are seeing an emerging dynamic where transparent, evidence-based conversations are encouraged among environmental NGOs, regulatory agencies, mana whenua and resource users.
There is growing "proof of the possible" happening all around the Gulf in 2015. For our annual public seminar at Auckland Museum we have asked an eclectic mix of speakers to suggest how we might extend this and move "forward together".
John Tregidga is mayor of the Hauraki District and chairman of the Hauraki Gulf Forum. Programme and bookings at www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/series/hauraki-gulf-marine-park-seminar.