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Plastic pollution in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf a growing concern

The health of the Hauraki Gulf's back in the spotlight after new Government funding's been committed to restoring shellfish beds.

However, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage admits a lot more needs to be done, with plastic pollution also a big concern.

“Once about 200 years ago, there was 15,000 square kilometres of pipi, mussel, horse mussel beds,” Ms Sage said.

“These shellfish beds played an enormously valuable role in filtering water, filtering out sediment, providing a substrate for fish, habitat and yet they have been virtually totally destroyed. We need to restore them, to restore the health of the Gulf”.

Work’s already underway, by a group called Revive Our Gulf, but now the Government’s committed $200,000 to help, with another $200,000 from international charity The Nature Conservancy.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said: “Revive our Gulf has placed 150 tonnes of live green-lipped mussels at a number of sites near Rotoroa Island and in Mahurangi Harbour to trial the restoration of mussel reefs."

Ms Sage said the ambition is to put in “some tens of hectares”.

Professor Andrew Jeffs from Auckland University’s Marine Science Institute welcomes the support from Government, saying shellfish are the lungs of the Gulf.

He told 1 NEWS the Hauraki Gulf is in crisis, and there’s more we can do.

“There's been a series of reports for the last 8/10 years showing the clear decline in the environmental quality of the Gulf.

“Sediment in particular, is causing problems in the gulf, but there's been continuing declines in fisheries”

On top of that, he says ”Plastic is one more stressor, on a very important ecosystem”.

1 NEWS went for a closer look with Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari, the trip organised by the Sustainable Business Network.

The group’s Gulf X programme lead Phil Jones sharing: “Most people now know that below that surface, it isn’t as pristine as it looks."

Auckland University Marine Science Researcher Devina Shetty was also on the outing.

There’s been very little research done on the effect plastic is having on marine life in the Hauraki Gulf, and that’s something she wants to change.

She’s looked at the impact on just one fish so far, the yellow bellied flounder,

“An approximate 30-40 percent of my yellow-bellied flounder, we found microfibres in them”, she said.

“There is genuinely a lot of plastic that fish are consuming."

National's conservation spokeswoman Sarah Dowie said, “National supports initiatives to restore the health of the Hauraki Gulf, although $200,000 seems light given the Minister’s tough talk on marine protection during her time in Opposition”.

Minister Sage told 1 NEWS it’s a start, admitting “The Hauraki Gulf is a taonga for all New Zealanders, we need to do so much more to improve its health.

“Let's see how this goes and what we achieve with that."

A ministerial advisory committee, which had its first meeting last month, is weighing up the priorities of what needs to be done for the Gulf.

Ms Sage said her next steps will depend on its recommendations.

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The Gulf is back in the spotlight after a Government commitment to restore shellfish beds. Source: 1 NEWS