Call could highlight marine protection

The view over Tautuku Bay, Catlins, from Florence Hill Lookout on the Southern Scenic Route. This...
The view over Tautuku Bay, Catlins. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
A call for a national park in the Catlins could work to highlight the need for marine protection off the southeastern corner of the South Island as well.

National's Conservation spokeswoman Sarah Dowie, of Invercargill, last week said feedback from National's environment discussion document clearly showed "a desire for more national parks".

The rugged wilderness between Invercargill and Balclutha was ideally suited to showcase how "protection and appropriate use" could go hand-in-hand.

"The Catlins is an area rich with biodiversity and is home to critically endangered species like the yellow-eyed penguin, while in the adjacent sea there are Hector's dolphins. The death of a number of penguins at Curio Bay earlier this year focused peoples' attention on the need for greater protection of these species," Ms Dowie said.

Forest & Bird Otago and Southland central regional manager Sue Maturin said the Catlins provided important habitat for mohua, or yellowhead, and native mistletoe, and it needed long-term, ongoing large-landscape predator control.

The environmental organisation would welcome better protection for nature in the area, but the land was already "pretty well" protected, and it was important to focus where the effort to protect the environment was applied.

Notably, the species highlighted by Ms Dowie required protection "more at sea than on land".

"We would support a national park for the Catlins, but what we really need is some marine reserves and marine protection in the Catlins and we would welcome National helping with and facilitating that," Ms Maturin said. "The Hector's and the yellow-eyed penguins, they really need better protection at sea, including protection, particularly from set-netting and other fisheries impacts."

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage backed the Government's record on national parks, which included this year adding 64,400ha of the Mokihinui River and lands in its catchment to Kahurangi National Park, the largest addition of land to a New Zealand national park.

The Department of Conservation's advisory body, the New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA), initiated the discussion on national parks.

"If the [NZCA] decided to investigate and then subsequently recommend a potential national park for the Catlins I would obviously consider that recommendation," she said. "Reclassification of land status is a complex and time-consuming exercise because of the need to evaluate ecological and other values and the need to work with Treaty partners."

Along with Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash, Ms Sage had progressed the larger of two options for marine protection networks provided by the Southeast Marine Protection Forum last year.

"We have instructed our agencies to make good progress this year on assessing the proposed network against statutory criteria. This assessment will include ongoing discussions with Ngai Tahu and further public consultation. We want to ensure that all views are heard and considered before making decisions to implement the forum's recommendations."

Ms Dowie said "practical environmentalists" were committed to balancing the protection of the environment with appropriate recreation.

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