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Thumbs Up June 2004

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By Phil McCarthy
The Southland Times
5 June 2004


Stewart Island – A small step in the fight to protect marine environments was taken yesterday with the approval of a marine reserve and mataitai covering Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island, Conservation Minister Chris Carter said.

The reserve will be centred on Ulva Island and stretch 1075ha along 12km of the inlet. It will be known as Ulva Island Marine Reserve.

The remaining 9000ha of the inlet would form part of a new mataitai reserve, which was also announced yesterday on the island by Fisheries Minister David Benson – Pope.

Crown representatives, iwi and other invited guests gathered at Sydney Cove on Ulva Island yesterday for a ceremony marking the culmination of more than a decade's work on the marine reserve proposal.

"It's a small step forward, and unless we take these steps we risk losing marine species," Mr. Carter said.

Protecting the marine environment was his highest priority as conservation minister, he said.

Mr. Benson-Pope said Te Whaka a Te Wera Mataitai Reserve, a Maori fishing reserve that will be managed by a committee, would ensure sustainable fishing around the inlet.

There had been obstacles to both reserve plans but hopefully any remaining opponents would eventually recognise the need for them, he said.

"I know (the process) hasn't been without tension and I know some of these tensions remain."

The Southland Recreational Fishers' Association was a notable absentee at yesterday's ceremony. The group fought unsuccessfully for a mataitai to cover the entire inlet.

Mr Carter said more than 270 seaweed species were found in the inlet.

Five species of marine mammals visit the inlet, including rare leopard seals and southern right whales as do 57 species of fish and 509 species of bird.

"This is a very exciting development in marine conservation because Paterson Inlet's crystal-clear waters are a treasure chest of marine life."

Most importantly, it was one of only a few sites in the world where four species of primitive shellfish, called brachiopods or lamp shells, lived, he said.

Stewart Island resident and former inlet protection committee chairwoman Margaret Hopkins said people often forgot there was a special place below the ocean that needed protection.

"All good things come to those who wait. This has been, perhaps, the most long and drawn out process I've been involved in," Ms Hopkins said.

Ngai Tahu deputy chairman Edward Ellison said it was the first time a marine reserve and mataitai had been approved at the same time in much the same location.

"The time it has taken is symbolic I suppose of the issue and the depth of feeling involved," Mr Ellison said.

If the Government had handled the foreshore and seabed question with as much time and consideration it would not face the problems now being encountered, he said.


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