A solar-powered, Wi-Fi camera on Kāpiti Island has been officially launched by locals in an attempt to stop illegal fishing.
"We’ve seen a massive increase in the number of reported offences for illegal fishing in Kāpiti marine reserve so anecdotally we know that it’s occurring and that camera’s going to help us to build a better picture of the extent of that illegal fishing," Guardians of the Kāpiti Marine Reserve chair Ben Knight said.
Mr Knight said several acts of poaching had occurred last summer in front of other members of the public in the northern part of the island’s reserve.
"If it’s happening on a good day then who knows how much is going on on those marginal boating days so the webcam’s here all the time, it’s keeping an eye on the water for us when we can’t be up here keeping an eye on it ourselves," he said.
The $15,500 project has been largely financed by the US Embassy, with $4000 in funding coming from the Department of Conservation.
"It’s something that was a shared value for us in terms of maritime security, illegal fishing, conservation," US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Sue Niblock said.
Paekakariki-based Peter Hanford and Daniel Bar-Even of Groundtruth have overseen the webcam technology and installation.
"This camera is a game-changer for us here.
"The technology that the team have put in, the live Wi-Fi connections means we can get close enough to actually see even the brand of sunglasses people are wearing," Wellington DOC operations manager Jack Mace said.
DOC spends $16,000 per year on compliance of the marine reserve, including maintaining its patrol boat based at Porirua and processing prosecutions.
It spends 30 hours per month monitoring the marine reserve.
This year, four alleged poaching incidents in the reserve have been reported to DOC, of which it hasn’t attended any.
"At the moment we can document the activity but we can’t actually apprehend somebody. The webcam is mounted up on the escarpment, it can’t physically go down and intercept a vessel on the water. It can’t gather that evidence like the catch that they’ve taken from the reserve," Mr Knight said.
"The other day we saw a boat with divers and bags coming back on board so we were able to document that some suspicious activity had occurred. But in the absence of a vessel being on hand to intercept that boat we can’t actually know for sure what they removed from the marine reserve," he said.
The group is calling for a patrol boat to be based at Kāpiti Island.
DOC's Jack Mace said it is gathering evidence to determine whether the call, or an increase in patrol hours, is feasible.
"We have seen a decline in the reported number of incidents since last year, which we think is in large part to the Guardians and their visibility on the beach and in the water,” he said.
At the moment, it takes officers an hour to get to the reserve by boat.
Guardians of the Kāpiti Marine Reserve are in talks with DOC over how monitoring the livestream will work in the long-term but at the moment the group is viewing the vision when they can.
Chair Ben Knight is hoping to invest in radar technology, if the group secures more funding, that could automatically detect movements inside the marine reserve boundary, and zoom in and record vision and send alerts to the group.
At the official launch of the webcam, Mr Knight revealed the US Embassy has granted a further $10,600 for installing two more cameras around the island.