Co-governance with Māori could create more support for marine reserves, says new Royal Society of New Zealand Council member Giles Dodson. But the legislation doesn’t support it. Innovative co-governance of conservation areas is happening – but through Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, says Dr Dodson, rather than traditional conservation legislation. Dr Dodson, a Senior Lecturer at Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland, researches environmental communication and governance and has followed several community efforts in Northland to establish new marine reserves.
Have any of the campaigns you have followed resulted in new marine reserves?
Not yet. These have been high-profile campaigns, with really good relationships with Māori, but for one reason or another they’ve not yet achieved their goals.
Fish Forever are campaigning for marine reserves in the Bay of Islands. Their proposal is a sound, strong one; the argument is that if a marine reserve was established there it would overnight become the most important one in New Zealand. That campaign is ongoing, and it looks likely to keep going, but it hasn’t moved into making a formal application
Down at Mimiwhangata there were two issues. One is that the current structures for governance were not robust enough. Hapū wanted co-governance and that’s not really available under the Marine Reserves Act, or the Reserves Act. A formal application for a Marine Reserve was developed between the Department of Conservation and local hapū, Te Uri o Hikihiki, with the question of governance unresolved. But it was put on hold in 2006 while a broader Marine Protected Areas (MPA) policy was developed by the Government, which is a hugely frustrating delay for all involved.
Will the Marine Protected Areas policy help bring about more community support for protection?
The way in which marine reserves have historically been done has been through environmental campaigning, which has been divisive – it can be very confrontational and communities can get exhausted. I think marine protected areas proposal is partly seeking to address that; and we may see good quality local collaboration being fostered. I would strongly advocate for a more participatory approach to marine protection planning, in which community gets a real say in what is being proposed and how it gets managed. However, in conventional consultation processes, a lot of people will say: we went along to a meeting, we put in a submission, but it’s as though we weren’t being listened to. That understanding of how to make people feel as though they are being listened to is really key.
These are often times local issues, they are driven by local communities, and that local character determines how the issue evolves, so participation is vital. With marine protected areas it’s about getting the balance right. The forum approach, such as have been used in several areas around the country, is promising. There is evidence that shows that if good quality participation is designed and effected, durable environmental outcomes can be achieved. But we still need to be critical about the structure beyond that planning phase. How the areas are governed in an ongoing way is a key issue, especially for Māori. There are mechanisms to allow for advisory groups, and there are some good stories of partnerships that have been a big success. But there are all kinds of issues that need to be taken into account, and the local context is really important. It would be great to see strong moves towards co-governance arising out of the MPA legislation.
Unlike marine reserves, marine protected areas don’t necessarily prohibit all fishing. Is that a good thing in terms of generating wider support?
There is a very strong scientific case to be made for no-take marine reserves. However, the no take issue is big – customary fishing is really important to Tangata Whenua. There are also historic grievances and bad experiences working with the Department of Conservation on these issues, but I think that with some tweaks to how marine reserves are established and governed a lot of progress could be made. There was a proposal that sought to reframe the Marine Reserves Act and build in some of the concepts such as rahui, which restricts access to a resource for a certain period of time. A marine reserve locks things up forever, which is inconsistent with the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga, as I understand it. A lot of progress on this could be made, if there was genuine management sharing between the Department of Conservation and local iwi. There are also combinations of tools, such as having a no take area within an area where management decides what can be taken. But I’m not certain this progress will be made; I’m not sure the MPA proposal really builds these concepts in.
Is there a risk that co-governance and collaboration could lower environmental standards, across reserves generally?
I would say it would come down to the quality of the governance and strong buy-in at a local level. If robust goals are established and the governance itself is robust enough I don’t see why that would be the case. It’s very important to develop governance approaches collaboratively. That takes time, and taking a long term view is important. I don’t see why we can’t have good quality environmental management and have shared governance.
The developments in Te Urewera, on the face of it, provide a really good example of how future management could be developed. I think it’s really interesting how the Treaty of Waitangi settlements process is providing these innovations – we see examples in the Urewera, at the Waikato River and at Ninety Mile Beach. These innovations in environmental management are not coming out of traditional conservation legislation such as the Conversation Act, but are coming out of the Treaty of Waitangi negotiations. We need to learn some lessons from that.
What lessons are you learning from marine reserve campaigns?
I’m interested in the social dimensions of conservation, in how we build support for different kinds of conservation. One of the key insights from looking into the marine reserve campaigns in Northland was that working with Māori was very important, which should come as no surprise. Māori can become very strong and vocal supporters, but there are a few issues that can prevent Māori getting in behind such campaigns. One that has some currency in Northland is that marae could act as marine education centres, which could potentially be real added value for local people, and they may overcome some of the concern at what some people see as the extinguishment of customary rights.
Are you working on this concept with any marae?
I’m working in Northland with Te Uri o Hau to look at ways of using its northern Kaipara Marae as education centres. They’re not currently pursuing marine reserves on the Kaipara, but have a very strong strategy to develop kaitiakitanga in the rohe. It’s been a long windy road, but we’ve been quite successful at getting some funding and are just about to roll out a series of professional development wānanga and actively engage with local high schools, who are enthusiastic and supportive. In a year from now we’d really like to see sustained engagement with local schools, with this work embedded in their local curriculum. This isn’t going to be just about getting kids on buses down to the marae; it’s about developing the capacity of the marae to be able to educate the community on environmental issues, with both Mātauranga Māori and western science tools. We think the project can be a win for all involved, and for the environment as well.
These interviews are supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which promotes, invests in and celebrates excellence in people and ideas, for the benefit of all New Zealanders.