By BERNARD ORSMAN

New Zealand's largest conservation group, Forest and Bird, has come out in support of Kaikoura Island as a memorial to Sir Peter Blake.

Delegates at the group's annual meeting in Wellington yesterday unanimously supported protection of the 564ha island in the Hauraki Gulf, spearheaded by the Forest Restoration Trust.

The 40,000-strong Forest and Bird marked 80 years of conservation work by calling for greater recognition of the Barrier islands in the gulf for threatened plants and animals.

President Dr Gerry McSweeney said there was a feeling among the 120 delegates that Kaikoura Island would be a fitting memorial to Sir Peter Blake because it combined conservation with outdoor recreation and education.

Forest and Bird's backing comes five days after supporters of a $10 million Viaduct Harbour tribute to Sir Peter Blake mounted a fresh bid to save their project. Te Papa, Lady Pippa Blake, Sir Peter's brother, Tony Blake, and Auckland City Mayor John Banks are pushing ahead with a glass structure housing the winning America's Cup yacht, NZL32, as part of an interactive exhibition on Sir Peter's life at the National Maritime Museum.

They were responding to a suggestion by Herald columnist Brian Rudman to buy and rename the island as a tribute to the champion yachtsman. The idea was backed by two polls and letters to the editor.

Dr McSweeney said Kaikoura lent itself to being a kind of Outward Bound course where physical exertion combined with developing an awareness of the environment.

"And, let's face it, that would be a living memorial to Sir Peter Blake. It may well be that you look at this in addition to whatever Te Papa and the family decide," he said.

"The restoration of Tiritiri Matangi Island has shown what the people of Auckland, in partnership with the Department of Conservation and other agencies, can achieve for conservation."

Auckland City councillors are due to debate the memorial for the first time publicly on Thursday after the finance committee decided in secret last month to give $2 million to the museum proposal.

The committee approved the funding as a last-minute addition to this year's budget, allowing just six days for public feedback.

Herald Feature: Peter Blake, 1948-2001