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Urgent action needed with Auckland's Hauraki Gulf on verge of 'environmental collapse'

Auckland's big blue backyard - the Hauraki Gulf - is "withering away" and on the verge of an environmental collapse, with an expert calling for better protection of the area.

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New Zealand Geographic publisher and director James Frankham says Auckland’s big blue backyard is in much trouble. Source: Breakfast

The Sixth State of the Gulf Report summarises a litany of exploitations and inaction that has pushed one of the world's most abundant ecosystems, uniquely close to the country's largest city, to tipping point.

The findings show that crayfish, which was once the Gulf's most abundant species, are now functionally extinct, while the snapper population is now about 17 per cent it's natural population before fishing.

Pollution and toxic algae has also caused 10 mass mortality events of fish and shellfish in the past decade, and only 0.3 per cent of the Hauraki Gulf is in a protected zone, meaning people can't fish there.

The United Nations forecast that 30 per cent of our oceans need to be protected by 2030 to reverse the global degradation of the sea, but New Zealand Geographic publisher and director James Frankham told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning the sea isn't given the same protection value as land.

"On land we are quite happy to protect 32 per cent of our land area in covenant bush, in national parks, that sort of thing," he said, comparing it to the 100 per cent less in the sea.

"On land you wouldn't be able to walk into bush and walk out with seven kiwi tucked under your arm for dinner but in the sea we do that, I'm not saying that is right or wrong, but we have a very different attitude to the sea than we do to the land."

Mr Frankham said it was hard hearing the dismal statistics from the report, explaining that fish below 20 per cent meant they were no longer sustainable.

He said there were only four of the 15 most commonly caught fish at or above a sustainable level of fishery.

"The rest are on a pathway to oblivion," he said. "We need to do something about it and we need to do it urgently.

"This used to be one of the great ecosystems on Earth. This was our Great Barrier Reef, our Amazon Headwaters the Yellowstone National Park, and it is slowly withering away and we're watching it head that way."

Mr Frankham said for more than a century people had been "fishing the earth out of this area".

"We've all enjoyed fishing from Hauraki Gulf, taking from it. We thought at one stage that it was vast and impossible to deplete and now we know that that's not true."

Mr Frankham said putting a ring around a small area, about 20 to 30 per cent of sea area, to protect it and its fish would make a huge difference.

"If we don't we have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that the Hauraki Gulf is going to wither away to nothing and there'll be nothing left for our children and our grandchildren, that's the tragedy of it.

"We're on a tipping point now, this is environmental collapse."