A major restoration project has been launched to turn around the sorry state of the Hauraki Gulf's depleted reefs and shellfish beds.
Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage announced $400,000 in funding for the project at a meeting of the Hauraki Gulf Forum today, with half from the Government and half from international non-profit The Nature Conservancy.
"The Hauraki Gulf was once home to abundant green-lipped mussels, horse mussels, cockles, pipi, tuatua and other native shellfish that formed expansive reefs and beds," Sage said.
"Most of these beds have now been lost from a combination of over-fishing and environmental degradation of land around the Gulf. This funding will help turn that around."
Shellfish beds and reefs also filtered sediment and contaminants from seawater, provided habitat for fish nurseries, stabilised the seabed, and enhanced biodiversity.
The Department of Conservation (DoC) and Fisheries New Zealand were partnering with community group Revive our Gulf and The Nature Conservancy, to restore the lost shellfish reefs and beds.
Revive our Gulf - which involved a group of scientists, mussel farmers, donors and community members - had previously placed 150 tonnes of live green-lipped mussels at a number of sites near Rotoroa Island and in Mahurangi Harbour to trial the restoration of mussel reefs in the Hauraki Gulf.
Revive Our Gulf and The Nature Conservancy were now aiming to initially restore 20 hectares of living shellfish reefs in the Hauraki Gulf, beginning with green-lipped mussels.
It was a step towards supporting the Hauraki Gulf Forum's recently-announced aspirational goal of restoring 1000 square kilometers of shellfish beds and reefs in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said that group had done a "fantastic job", as well as the mussel farmers who donated mussels required for this project.
Sage said this initiative aligned with the Sea Change Tai Timu Tai Pari Plan, which called for restoration of shellfish beds and mussel reefs as a key component of reversing the environmental decline of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
The Nature Conservancy, which worked on shellfish restoration projects in Australia and the United States, would be trialling new methods to re-establish shellfish beds and co-ordinate restoration initiatives in the Hauraki Gulf, Sage said.