Tackling the decline of Auckland's big blue backyard is the mission of a new $5 million fund, launched today.

In the largest environmental project it has led, philanthropic organisation Foundation North has created a major, five-year fund to support innovators trying to clean up the Hauraki Gulf.

The most recent environmental stocktake of the gulf paints a grim picture: snapper and crayfish populations slashed by three-quarters, and development and intensive agriculture heaping more pressure on estuaries and coastlines already affected by sediment and chemical run-off. With the gulf region's population expected to grow to 2.3 million people by 2031, authorities and groups have urgently been trying to find ways to address environmental impacts through efforts such as joint marine spatial planning project SeaChange.

Foundation North's chief executive Jennifer Gill described the gulf as a "major asset for all Aucklanders".


"But we know that the gulf's environment is under pressure, which is contributing to the degradation of both land and sea," she said.

"We are looking to promote new thinking and collaboration to generate action and responses to turn the tide."

Called the Gulf Innovation Fund.Together, or Gift, the new pool will support people or groups who could turn ideas about how to improve the gulf into prototype projects.

Gill said this didn't only apply to researchers or scientists.

"It could be someone who is sitting on an island and has a really good idea about pest eradication."

Next month, the foundation would be holding an "innovation lab" where people could present their ideas, before candidates could apply for small grants to cover the first stages of projects.

"We're very excited about seeing what comes forward."

Gill said the initial response to the fund was encouraging.


"It's been hugely positive, and particularly once people realise that we're not just creating another organisation.

"And the interesting thing is that because we're a philanthropic organisation, we can take risks that the Government might not. So we're prepared to test some things quite hard and see if there are some good innovative responses out there."

Gill said the fund wouldn't affect any of the other projects supported by the foundation, which holds in a trust an endowment of over $1 billion from the Auckland and Northland community's shares in what was previously the Auckland Savings Bank.

Gulf Gift

• A new $5 million fund offered by Foundation North will support projects and innovations to help reverse the decline of the Hauraki Gulf.

• The 2014 "State of Our Gulf" report found development and industry pressure had already had big impact's on the gulf's land and sea environment, depleting fish stocks and polluting water.

• A sprawling joint effort to create a marine spatial plan for the gulf, called SeaChange, is expected to be complete soon.