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Ocean floor survey of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf finds signs of 'ecosystem collapse'

A look at the sea floor of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf through sophisticated mapping shows an environment in pretty bad shape.

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New Zealand Geographic’s James Frankham detailed how their world-leading ocean floor mapping technology revealed just how bad it is. Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand Geographic’s Seascape Project is diving in to how the area’s marine life is holding up, using photogrammetry underwater to survey the area.

Funded by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke’s ocean charity Live Ocean, the project has been capturing the Hauraki Gulf’s ocean floor for the past nine months.

The results weren’t exactly what the team were hoping for according to NZ Geographic publisher James Frankham, with signs of structural collapse of the ecosystem identified.

“We’re getting vision of this landscape scale collapse for the first time … arguably it’s a little bit worse than we expected because of the extent of the barreness and the distribution so far out to sea,” Frankham told Breakfast.  

Without an abundance of natural predators in the area like snapper, kina have been left to run rampant through the gulf. They’ve been left to overgraze, wiping out natural habitats like kelp.

With recreational overfishing in the Gulf, combined with the ongoing effects of pollution and climate change Frankham says the ecosystem has literally been “eaten away”.

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David Parker said he is hoping to finalise the deal for the proposed Kermadec Sanctuary in this Parliamentary term. Source: Breakfast

“When you have so many things impacting against an ecosystem it loses resilience, and it also loses it’s ability to absorb the carbon that we’re introducing into the atmosphere”.

Frankham says measures, like those taken by Ngāti Pāoa, will help to restore the damage felt within the Gulf.

The local iwi announced plans for a two-year rāhui surrounding Waiheke Island in an effort to restore the declining numbers of scallops, mussels, crayfish and pāua in the area.

“It’s an incredibly good decision by the people who are affected the most and Ngāti Paoa have looked out and seen their kaimoana disappear. They’ve seen their Mātaitai wither away”.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, with Frankham projecting that if action is taken now the Gulf could be restored to its former glory within a generation.

“We can fix it, that’s the best thing. We understand the problem very well. We understand what’s required to fix the problem, but we just haven’t done it yet”.