Warning ecosanctuary erodes official efforts

Prof Colin Campbell-Hunt contemplates the future for ecosanctuaries. Photo by Peter McIntosh. Community efforts to restore habitats and protect species through fenced enclosures may be taking the pressure off the Government support conservation, Otago business academic Prof Colin Campbell-Hunt says.

''It would be a nasty possible effect if it reduces Government contributions to conservation. That would be gutting.

''It is exactly the opposite of what we want,'' he said. He is the co-author of Ecosanctuaries, a recent book on the development of six New Zealand ecosanctuaries: Orokonui, in Dunedin, Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, north of Auckland, Maungatautari, in Waikato, Rotokare, in Taranaki, Bushy Park, in Wanganui and Karori (now Zealandia), in Wellington.

If it was reducing Government contributions, it meant the cause was going backwards, not forwards.

''Everyone in conservation wants more effort and emphasis to support these creatures.

''We want to grow support for conservation.''

His experience in business and his role on the Orokonui Ecosanctuary trust board meant he was an ideal position to see how the whole business language coming out of the Department of Conservation and Government was wrong for conservation, Prof Campbell-Hunt, who is also a trustee on Orokonui's trust board, said.

''It's misconceived. Any economic valuation of endangered species seriously undervalues what they are.''

New Zealand's special flora and fauna should be protected and looked after for the next generations, regardless of any financial gain to be made from them.

''We don't own them. You can't put a price on them and make them dance in tune.''

The Government existed for the public good and conservation was one of those public goods which should not be sold to meet the costs that will need to be covered in the future, he said.

While ecosanctuaries charged people to enter their predator-proof sanctuaries, it was to continue their conservation work, which in turn generated a flow-on gain for their community.

''It's a question of degree. They are building up public awareness.''

The six sanctuaries featured in the book offered six distinct attempts to find a viable and sustainable model for communities to contribute to and promote conservation, he said.

''Each is more or less a unique experiment into these innovative new strategies for conservation and advocacy.''

The past year had been good for Orokonui. Visitor numbers and volunteer hours were strong and it was starting to get on a firm footing, he said.

''It takes time to build up social support and market it as a tourism destination when recreating a world from the past takes a decade or so.''

Rotokare, in Taranaki, was also doing well, but Karori was struggling to get the balance right, he believed.

The conclusion from the research in the book was that the sanctuaries had to sustain community support, as without the support of volunteers they would not be able to keep on functioning.

''Their purpose is to capture the communities' imagination and make them understand what's at risk.''

Their success was based on four essential aspects, including support from the community, Department of Conservation and iwi and input from local government, and if one was lost or one relied on too heavily, the long-term sustainability of the venture was in danger, he said.

The early emergence of a market for local visitors favoured sanctuaries such as Orokonui and Karori, which could charge fees and were near large populations.

''Efforts are ongoing to develop product offerings that are attractive to tourists without undermining the sanctuary's core purposes of conservation and advocacy.''

As a result, a sustainable future for community-led sanctuaries seemed likely to involve ongoing tension between sanctuaries' primary mission to contribute to the restoration of biodiversity and to advocate for conservation and the economic imperatives of earning enough income to cover costs.

''The pursuit of higher visitor numbers may at some point undermine a sanctuary's ability to shock its visitors with the realisation of what the world felt like before it was subjugated to human need.''

- rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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