Species Threatened with Extinction Unless Fully Protected
Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ Inc
P O Box 11-057, Wellington; email eco@reddfish.co.nz; Tel (04) 385-7545
For Monday 27 September 1999 - Wellington - Media Release

Species Threatened with Extinction Unless Fully Protected
[Note: Species extinction is even more important than the election date.]

Species that are found no-where else in the world but Spirits and Tom Bowling Bays from Cape Reinga to North Cape are likely to be lost irretrievably unless they are fully protected now, says Cath Wallace for the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, ECO. In response to the Fisheries Minister, John Luxton’s announcement of a no-fishing strip largely between 50 and 70 metres depth off the Bays, Cath Wallace warned that the Minister’s minimalist approach to protection is likely to lead to significant further losses of species and unique marine communities because of trawling and scallop dredging. "The Minister’s response is tragically inadequate. He is sacrificing rare, very rare, and unique species. Forty-five are found nowhere else. Losses will be irretrievable. He appears to have set the 50 m depth inshore boundary under pressure from the scallop dredgers and trawlers. There are many species that will be lost from the shore side of 50 metres. "From an ecological point of view it is essential to protect species in shoreward of the 50 m depth contour because different species and communities live in shallow water compared to those found beyond 50m. The fifty metre depth limit has been picked because most scallop dredges operate in shallower waters. The Minister has also only closed one of the three trawl tracks that are probably doing a lot of damage - even his own report concedes this."

Ms Wallace condemned the fishing companies who pressured the Minister not to give greater protection to this area. "What we have here are companies and the SeaFood Industry Council that could be pushing for proper protection - but they aren’t doing it and instead fishers are resisting these essential protection regulations. There is no way that New Zealanders should allow these companies to have greater powers to determine fishing - yet this is exactly what they and the Minister are planning for the near future under plans for industry management of fisheries."

"In 1996 scientists warned that continued dredging would destroy the unparalleled communities of marine animals in the area. By 1997 scientists were even more insistent that extinctions would occur if there was not proper protection. They stressed the occurrence of rare species in the 30-60 metre depth contours. Because of the Minister’s refusal to act in those years when the government was first warned, we have already lost much of the "Sponge Garden" and other communities. Scallop dredgers and trawlers have ploughed up, smashed or suffocated unique animals and plants in the last 3 years.

"This is a tragedy of extinction and irreversible community loss being played before us. Under industry pressure the Minister is doing as little as possible about the most important biological area in New Zealand. No New Zealander should stand by and allow these areas to be trawled and dredged. It is a crime against the future and a crime against nature.
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For further information contact Cath Wallace, (04) 389-1696(h) or (04) 463-5713(w).
What follows is a note to Reporters and Editors on what the scientists and Ngati Kuri said and why this area is exceptional and at risk:
Spirits Bay and Tom Bowling Bay Exceptional Biological Richness - 
What the Scientists Said:

In 1996 scientists warned "In addition to being unique, this community-type is also extremely fragile as communities dominated by these encrusting species are extremely susceptible to suffocation through burial brought about by bottom-dredging activity."*

After a 1997 scientific survey, the scientists virtually pleaded in their report for the fisheries managers and Minister to take action "In no way are we premature in voicing concern that any continuation of bottom-dredging activity off Spirits Bay will irreparably damage the environment and probably lead to multiple species extinction".**

"Soft sediment environments between 30-60 metres depth off Spirits Bay now are recognised as supporting one of the most unique, biogeographically diverse faunas thus far known from New Zealand waters. Without further delay these entire offshore soft-sediment environments require immediate protection by way of reserve designation to prevent any environmental degradation caused by commercial bottom dredging or trawling activity" (from p 4 of the Draft report from 1997).

Still the Minister of Fisheries took no protective action despite ECO’s urging during 1998. The trawlers refused to stop though the scallopers agreed to leave a little rectangle of no-take area beyond their normal depths. ECO, other environmental organisations and Ngati Kuri this year all asked the Minister to give the full area at least interim protection until a further report from the NIWA scientists is to hand at the end of November this year. It is not long to wait - especially as the scallop stocks have anyway been ruined. Only 10 scallops were found in the January survey from an area from which thousands have been removed.

This is probably the richest biological area in New Zealand, containing hundreds of species in exceptional variety and community with large numbers that are, rare or previously unknown species and at least 45 species not found elsewhere.

Larger marine invertebrates alone include rich communities of species from the following groups: sponges, anemones, corals, gorgonians (sea fans), hydroids (polyps - relatives of corals), molluscs (shell fish), bryozoans (moss animals), crustacea (eg crabs, barnacles, hermit crabs), compound ascidians (sea squirts), echinoderms (starfish, sea eggs, brittle stars), octopus and more.

This does not include the polychaete worms, the plants or the vertebrate animals or anything too small to be collected by the fairly coarse dredge used for samples.

After pressure from ECO, Greenpeace and Forest and Bird, a special survey of the marine life was done in January 1999 to identify the invertebrate species and their distribution at Spirits and Tom Bowling Bays. NIWA’s interim April report said: "At least 45 species are now known to occur only in the Spirits Bay area. Sixteen of these are new and undescribed."*** There are even species from whole new families of animals (genera). The scientists noted there are "highly diverse invertebrate communities out to a depth of at least 80m. Aside from previously discovered sponge and bryozoan assemblages (218 and 170 species identified to date), the area also supports corals, soft corals, gorgonians, black corals (probably) and a wide variety of [other] invertebrate taxa."

The interim report said that sponge and hydroid diversity appears to be highest in depths of 50-70 m, but it also said that there were whole families of marine animals that had been collected in the January survey which had not yet been looked at. These include bryozoans and molluscs. This report also noted that corals and gorgonians were found out to 100m depth. Species rich communities were found well inside 50m with significant collections off Hooper’s point. Bryozoan (moss animals) sorting and identification was still underway in April 1999, but even then there were 170 species identified. Four samples off Hooper’s Point, each contained more than 50 species of bryozoans alone. One barnacle found is exceptional in that its nearest relative is thought to have been extinct for 300 million years.

The NIWA scientists no longer give recommendations for management responses because apparently because they have been told not to by their managers . This is seems to be partly because the Ministry of Fisheries doesn’t like them doing so. Most of all it seems to be that NIWA management is apparently afraid of fishing industry pressure that under new research commissioning arrangements the Ministry and industry are pushing through, the fishing industry will commission much future research and NIWA does not want to antagonise those with the cheque books. The net effect is that public debate is suffering and critical matters of public interest go largely unsaid.
Cath Wallace
* O’Shea, Steve (compiler) (1996) Spirits Bay (Northland) Community Uniqueness Appraisal, NIWA.
** O’Shea, Steve and Martin Cryer (1997) Spirits Bay Revisited: Faunal Appraisal based on additional information, 1997, NIWA
 *** Cryer, Martin; O’Shea, Steve; Kelly, Michelle et al (1999) Geographic and Bathymetric distribution of benthic communities between North Cape and Cape Reinga with notes on community structure and Species diversity, Progress Report for Ministry of Fisheries Research Project ENV9805, NIWA, April 1999.
Notes on the common names and compositions of some of the major groups (taxa) found at Spirits Bay:
sponges (sponges)
bryozoans (moss animals)
ascidians, (sea squirts)
mollusc (shell fish)
crustacea (shrimps, crayfish, barnacles, crabs etc)
hydroids - (polyps - simple animals, relatives of corals)
grogonins - (sea fans)
echinoderms (starfish, sea eggs, sea cucumbers, brittle stars)
[polychaete worms - mostly not surveyed but bound to be there]
What Ngati Kuri said: 
Ngati Kuri also formally made a submission in which they asked for protection of the area from the seashore out to 70 metres. This position was agreed to by a hui of the people and by the Ngati Kuri Trust Board. Contacts for Ngati Kuri are Andrew Christie (Karori, Wellington) and Tom Bowling Murray (Kaitaia (?))

P O Box 11-057, Wellington • Phone/fax 04 385 7545 • eco@reddfish.co.nz