Setting sails … and what the Environment Court has to do with it

Good things come to those who wait, they say. For the last three months, I have done quite a bit of waiting… waiting for this day to come: The day of our departure to sail around New Zealand.

Sailing again, that´s all we have in mind at the moment.
Sailing again, that´s all we have in mind at the moment.

It is a day, that has been postponed too many times for my taste. Even though it was all for a very good reason: Over the last four years, T.A. has worked as a technical advisor for the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust, a kaitiaki guardian trust supported by the elders of the island of Motiti in the Bay of Plenty on the east coast of North Island, an island, T.A. is connected with over 19 generations of whakapapa (genealogy). And if anyone knows about waiting and persistence, it is them: For the last nine years, the trust has done everything to achieve one goal: To be able to protect their Rohe Moana, their ocean, their reefs and coastal lines from the adverse effects of overfishing, destructive take-out-methods and pollution. In short: To practise kaitiakitanga (guardian-/stewardship), a responsibility Maori people take over the environment they are connected with through Whakapapa (genealogy).

After successfully achieving a declaration that allows communities and Regional Council on a local level to protect ecological, social, indigenous and intrinsic values of their environment within the legal framework of the Regional Management Act, the MRMT proposed an innovative approach for marine restoration before the Environment Court of New Zealand a couple of weeks ago.

The presented concept, T.A. developed with the trust, is based both on cultural and ecological aspects.
It consists of a mixture of

→ Wahi Tapu, areas of high cultural value that should not be infringed by humans (no take within 1 nm) and
→ Wahi Taonga, zones which allow for appropriate utilisation of the marine space like recreational fishing but are still not accessible for industrial fishing methods such as trawling, purse seining or dredging that have adverse effects on indigenous biodiversity.

That´s how the suggested marine restoration area around Motiti could look like (c) Di Lucas Landscape architects & associates
That´s how the suggested marine reserve area around Motiti could look like (c) Di Lucas Landscape architects & associates

This integrated approach could solve many challenges marine reserve areas currently face: Whereas the implementation of marine reserve areas in New Zealand usually relatively small and take an average of 8-10 years to establish, the MRMT ‘Taonga model’ could be tested right away. Moreover, bigger marine reserve areas are usually located thousands of miles away from civilisation such as NZ’s Sub-Antarctic islands.

This is exactly what the approach of MRMT wants to provide for: “Marine protection is not a rigid rule but an adaptive one that is best exercised by the local community”, explains marine biologist Te Atarangi Sayers, technical advisor to the MRMT. “It must provide for the community in a way that does not alienate it but enhances its ability to have access.” Appropriate utilisation instead of alienation from the ocean is the key. What this appropriate utilisation looks like should be decided equally by the community for all parts of the communities – from commercial industry to Maori to recreational fishers. This approach also removes bias from decisions as it provides for decisions based on science and indicators such as the extent of kina barren, fish behaviour and other factors. The performance of the rules and methods, which have been proposed, will be measured on social, economic and ecological dimensions. Therefore, the approach uses the “mauri model” (Mauri = lifeforce) developed by engineer Dr Kepa Morgan from Auckland University.

With this holistic, multi-layered and community-led concept, the island of Motiti could become a testbed for a vibrant, restored and abundant ocean. If the decision of the Environment Court in April 2018 is a positive one, of course. An almost even greater opportunity is the transferability of the approach to other coastal communities in New Zealand and later to communities in the Pacific islands which share a similar culture.

Spreading the message

And here our circumnavigation comes into play: Our goal is not only to enjoy the ocean for ourselves (even though, we want to do quite a bit of that too over the next months till April), but most of all to empower communities to express their relationship with the big blue backyard and practise kaitiakitanga. Therefore, T.A. will share this holistic approach in talks with coastal communities all around the country.

After all the waiting, the day has come: We finally set sail and what could be more appropriate than having Motiti as the first destination of our circumnavigation? (The feature picture of this post shows our first anchorage – all part of the future Wahi Tapu). After that, we plan on moving towards the volcanic White Island and then heading south.


At least this is the plan for now. Stay tuned to see where the wind blows us… and maybe see you somewhere out there.

PS: If you want us to share the approach with your community too, please get in touch with us >> 

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