Democracy in the marine environment? Yeah right!

Opinion piece by Helen Campbell

The first shots have been fired in this government’ s plans to reduce costs and make processes easier for those in the aquaculture (marine) industry and to exponentially expand aquaculture activities and to ignore the current and future impacts of these activities on the marine environment. The cannon used for these shots is enshrined in the Resource Management Act 1991 – check out sections 360A-360C. [This was passed in 2011 and introduced the Minister of Aquaculture into the RMA.]

These sections, which enable the government through an Order In Council (an “Executive” decision), to amend regional coastal plans, by regulations, without public notification or the ability to appeal to the Environment Court, as has been in the past required by Schedule 1 of the Resource Management Act.

The National Environment Standard (NES) for Marine Aquaculture is the first salvo to be fired in a “priority” range of changes the government intends to make to the aquaculture processing regime. Still to come are proposals for industry growth outside of existing space, and/or creation of new space, which are likely to follow the same framework.

The NES deals, in particular, with reconsenting process and biodiversity matters. The proposal will replace existing regional coastal plans and change second generation plans currently under preparation. These changes will not follow Schedule 1 of the Act – that is, no public input will be possible. While the legislation states that proposed regulations “will continue to give effect” to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement as well as any regional policy statement, it is clear that aspects for the former – such as strategic planning, biodiversity, natural character, natural landscapes and features, have only been given token if any recognition. Councils currently reviewing policy documents including regional policy statements will be required by the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Minister of Aquaculture, and the Department of Conservation to comply with the political moves, again with no notification or rights to appeal.

The proposed NES overrides the (current) 2010 New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) and significant recent case law that has emphasised the importance of the objectives and policies of the NZCPS; including requirement for “appropriate activities in appropriate places”.

These legislative changes constitute a significant loss in the democratic processes that are inherent in the Resource Management Act (RMA) and will undoubtedly mean that the purpose of the Act will be undermined and that natural and physical resources, including marine ecosystems, degraded for future generations.

Issues to consider include lack of adequate information or direction on:
• Relationship between the NZCPS 2010 and the NES/regulations e.g. the recent Supreme Court case (and other decisions) emphasise the need for adverse effects on Outstanding Natural Features and Landscapes (Policy 15) to be avoided. This Supreme Court case and other case law shows that the values of landscape must be assessed as if existing structures were not in the site under consideration. This directive also relates to Outstanding Natural Character (Policy 13) and Biodiversity, ecosystems and habitats etc. (Policy 11). No existing farms, until this decision, have been assessed in accordance with this.

Strategic planning: This often is not dealt with in the planning stages; and a “strategy” the occupation of space by marine farms is effectively privatisation of the “commons”. The specific impacts of marine farming whether it is shellfish or “fed” fish is not, despite the discussion documents protests, adequately know: there is a huge “knowledge gap” which has been acknowledge by various agencies including the Ministry for Primary Industries, and proven by case law.

Policy 7 (2) NZCPS requires the identification by councils of the coastal processes, resources and values that are either under threat or at significant risk from adverse cumulative effects with thresholds (zones, standards and targets) to be set in plans (or specification of acceptable limits) to assist in determining when activities causing cumulative effects are to be avoided. These effects of course need to consider all impacts on the coastal marine area: e.g. urban activities including development, fishing and dredging, forestry sedimentation, climate change etc. as well as actual aquaculture activities including those associated with feeding and harvesting.

The “connectivity” of ecosystems within the marine environment is still largely unknown. No information on the state of strategic planning throughout NZ has been assessed by the Ministries involved in this exercise. Without this crucial information no extension in the terms of the current farms should be permitted, but should continue to be assessed as discretionary activities with public/community/iwi/scientific input.

• Adaptive management – many consents are granted with condition that allows for adaptive management: in active adaptive management, managers design practices so as to discriminate between alternative models, and thus reveal the “best” management action. This sometimes involves testing practices that differ from “normal”, in order to determine how indicators will respond over a range of conditions. In passive adaptive management, managers select the “best” management option, assuming that the model on which the predictions are based is correct. Both passive and active adaptive management require careful implementation, monitoring, evaluation of results, and adjustment of objectives and practices. Active adaptive management usually allows more reliable interpretation of results, and leads to more rapid learning.

• Existing and “deemed” permits – many consents have been granted or extended by a process that involved no public consultation either through consent applications or planning processes. Many of these decisions were made on an ad hoc basis, encouraged by the years of ad hoc consideration of how to best handle the legislation that consents should be “permitted” under. This has meant that the “appropriateness” of a particular farm in a particular site may never have ever been assessed. Much has changed in the marine environment since the 1970’s and change is the one constant that can be depended on in the marine environment. No environmental limits or “carrying capacity” of the environment has been contemplated in the NES; despite the objective!

• “Inappropriate areas for aquaculture”: The NES states that the public, once the regulations are in place, will be able to participate in 2nd generation plan changes on where councils should assign areas as being “inappropriate” for marine farming….. but if the NES is in place and councils must make plan changes that comply with the regulations then all of the existing farms will already have “restricted discretionary” status which is tantamount to being able to stay in perpetuity! No public/community involvement.

• “Certainty”: The NES has been written to provide “certainty” for the aquaculture industry and its investors, but not for the general public over an area of the public domain that cannot be “owned”. The discussion document admits that public input has been useful but then proceeds to exclude just those opportunities.

• Effects on biodiversity – “token” points relate to management practices to minimise (not avoid) “marine mammal and seabird interactions – particularly entanglement, but not habitat exclusion”! The resting, feeding and breeding places of for instance seabirds are ignored, as well as areas for fishing breeding e.g. elephant fish. All “restricted discretionary activities and Categories 3 & 4 (change to fed finfish species) only require “management practices” to minimise marine mammal and seabird “interactions” – not avoidance.

• Effects on benthos – again token words relate to “reefs and biogenic habitats” and “benthic values and the seabed” with qualifiers added such as “significant”. The vulnerability of certain areas of other areas/habitats/ecosystems is ignored.

• Ability to have “more stringent or lenient activity classification”. This statement is very questionable…. and singularly unhelpful. When and how does a council make such a decision when its” rights” have been overcome by this NES and there is no Schedule 1 process to get public/scientific input? Again the assumptions are made that plans adequately identify import “values” and “characteristics”.

• Sites of “particular importance” to the industry. No indication of what criteria will be used for identification of such sites or what rights do the public have for objection? The example given, Wainui Bay, Golden Bay has been subject to many objections over many years, is in an area of ONFL, and is outside of AMAs established in Golden Bay as a consequence of a significant enquiry and Environment Court case. An appeal against a plan change to make these a “controlled” activity – that is no decline is possible, is currently underway.

Submission
Go to https://www.mpi.govt.nz/news-and-resources/consultations/proposed-national-environmental-standard-for-marine-aquaculture/ for the Discussion Document and proposed regulations. Read the proposals. Submissions are due by 5pm, Tuesday 8 August 2017.

Helen Campbell is a Friends of Nelson Haven & Tasman Bay committee member with an interest RMA coastal planning issues

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ECO Submission Summary: the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap

The Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment are working together to identify the areas of scientific knowledge which will be required by government over the next 20 years for decision-making for conservation and environmental policy and management.  This is known as the “roadmap”.

Submissions from interested groups and individuals were invited and ECO made a submission in response to the government discussion paper, which is on the DOC website.

We have summarised our submission below.  The full text of the ECO submission is available on the ECO website here.

Submission Summary:

ECO provided suggestions for improvements to the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap. The roadmap is a document outlining 12 topics related to environmental science and the ways in which the government, private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individuals can make positive decisions regarding the environment. ECO believes that regarding climate change, the listed goals are too weak and that the roadmap places too much emphasis on raising awareness. The roadmap should encourage a real programme of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emission, such as a goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 rather than the proposed 30% reduction.

While ECO understands the appeal of new environmental technology, it opposes carbon capture and storage because the environmental impacts are not fully known or understood and because it could be used as an excuse to not de-carbonize the economy. ECO also criticized the overarching goal of protecting “highest priority” populations as not being ambitious enough; by referring to some species as “highest priority” it implies giving up on others and this is unacceptable to ECO. ECO also notes that it supports the inclusion of Mātauranga Māori but cautions against the vigorous assertion of Maori property rights at the expense of the health of the environment itself.

Other topics covered in the roadmap included the ecosystems and processes of freshwater, land, coastal and marine, and urban environments as well as biosecurity, and the social and economic dimensions of conservation. In general, ECO felt that the roadmap was too sensitive and had too much “spin” and could benefit from being more blunt or direct. ECO also recommended the addition of topics such as the atmosphere, environmental legal and policy research, and the study of energy alternatives.

Summary written by ECO volunteer Adena Maier

The Environmental Impact Of Cigarette Litter

Daisy Poe from Quitza draws our attention to the immense threat to our marine environment and air quality caused by smoking and discarded butts.

Quitza is a non profit where users from all over the world support each other while quitting smoking using Quitza’s custom made social support network. Quitza combines the social support with real time progress tracking technologies where users earn awards when they reach milestones throughout their quit. These are then shared with the community for further support.

 

According to the WHO there are currently over 1 billion smokers globally.

Six million of those smokers will die each year from a smoking related illness.

The negative consequences of smoking range far from just the health effects on the individual. The environmental impact caused by improper disposal of cigarette butts is as large as it is concerning.

Each year 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded improperly around the world. They are the single most littered item in existence, ever.

It is in our towns and cities that the vast majority of cigarette ends are discarded improperly. With the help of wind and rain they are often blown or washed into our waterways. They then either remain in our lakes and rivers, make their way to the ocean, or get washed up in our natural spaces.

While in our waterways cigarette butts can often be mistaken for food by aquatic life. If a human adult ingests a cigarette butt they are likely to have some mild health consequences such as vomiting and a upset stomach. Imagine the pain and suffering ingesting a cigarette butt would cause to an animal the size of a fish. (Symptoms include vomiting, respiratory failure, and often death.)

If the cigarette butt gets washed out of our waterways onto a riverbank or onto the beach, non marine life faces the same issue. Land animals will also mistake it for food, ingest it, and receive the same potentially lethal consequences as aquatic life.

To make matters worse, (contrary to popular belief) cigarette butts are not biodegradable. They can take up to 25 years to fully degrade. While they do so they are releasing over 4000 toxins into the soil or water that surrounds them

It would be tempting to discount this issue due to the small size of a cigarette butt. However a study conducted by SDSU found that a single cigarette butt placed in a 1 litre tank of water killed half the fish in the tank.

When we remember our initial statistic of 4.3 trillion improperly discarded cigarettes butts each year, the cause for concern arising from these toxic chemicals entering our ecosystem becomes apparent.

So what can we do to reduce the amount of harm caused to our environment by cigarette litter?

 

Various research organizations and public health bodies around the world have proposed a variety of solutions to this issue. However one main common solution to the issue is commonly agreed upon.

 

Many people are simply unaware of just how large the problem of improperly disposed cigarette litter is. They are unaware of how harmful it is to the environment.

 

Through education and awareness campaigns it is possible to reduce the amount of cigarette litter that is improperly disposed of, reducing the scale of the problem.

 

It’s time to start treating cigarette butts like the toxic waste they actually are.

Protest is not terrorism: the Maritime Crimes Bill

Protest is not terrorism: a ‘protest’ against Maritime Crimes Amendments Bill

Frances Palmer, ECO supporter and local environmental activist from Auckland, argues that the Maritime Crimes Bill will enhance “security” for visiting ships whilst placing our democratic rights at risk:

It’s over three decades since peace protests on Auckland Harbour and ‘water-borne’ protests like government’s Moruroa ship visits. Do New Zealanders realise that a Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill being rushed through Parliament will classify future ship-borne protests as ‘terrorism‘?

We should ‘protest’, vigorously question, any attempt to redefine ‘protest’ as ‘terrorism’. Such shifts threaten democracy, the right to express opposition to any questionable, contestable policy. New Zealanders cannot permit labels of ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ loaded with inferences of ‘enemy’ and ‘security threat’, to cynically tarnish a tradition of ethical protest crucial in our history; nor to threaten well-meaning people from exercising democratic rights to defend issues like peace, justice, human rights and the environment.

We should also protest such bills being rushed through under the radar. Inadequate public consultation is an undermining of peoples’ right to express alternative opinions from that of any government. Facilitating broad public debate should not be perceived as a security nuisance. It is democracy. It is part of what protects our society from terror or terrorism.

Perhaps the Bill aims to enhance a sense of ‘security’ for visiting warships, such as visits looming, sponsored by weapons giants like Lockheed Martin, with a weapons expo to match the merry event. Given the sickening violence we see such weapons do daily overseas, most Aucklanders would prefer to protect our well-earned reputation as a ‘liveable’ Peace City, and the real sense of security that comes with that.

Climate Change news

As ECO prepares for its annual conference in August, themed around climate change and water, we background some recent news stories on climate change issues.

Arctic sea ice falls to new low. Data published by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows that the Arctic sea ice was at historic low levels in May. Retreating ice is a problem because the exposed oceans absorb more heat rather than being reflected back into space.
Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was at the lowest level in 50 years this April.  Read more.

Warmest autumn in New Zealand since 1938. Niwa’s climate summary for autumn shows that the national average temperature for March, April and May this year was 1.4C above the autumn average, at 14.7C. Almost every climate station in New Zealand recorded higher than average temperatures for this time of year, which is attributed to warm seas to the west, some of the warmest seen in the last 100 to 130 years.  NIWA predicts an unusually warm winter also.

Successful trials converting CO2 to rock

A paper published in Science this month reports on successful trials in converting CO2 to rock and storing it underground in Iceland. The new method trialled works by dissolving CO2 in water to create sparkling water and then injecting it into basalt rocks 550m underground.  The CO2 cannot escape into the atmosphere because it is dissolved and cannot rise to the surface.
Such capture and storage methods may have to be part of the solution, if, as appears to be the case, we are entering runaway climate change.

Methane gas emissions at US natural gas plants under-reported – cover-up alleged

A not-for-profit in the US has alleged that a senior official in the US Environmental Protection Agency engaged in a cover-up of the true levels of methane emissions from fracking operations across the United States.
Other studies have shown much higher emissions levels but the EPA reports using the Bacharach measuring device always showed the emissions as lower – which the industry has used to justify their operations. The group NC WARN maintain that the senior EPA official has led an ongoing attempt to coverup the under-reporting by the Bacharach device. Read more.

 

Why cigarette butts are a huge problem- and why we must do something about it.

Smokers throw their butts onto the ground and somehow don’t consider that as littering, and will do the right thing with their food wrappers or soft drink bottle – why are cigarette butts different?

The absence of bins until recently, and an established culture of stubbing out on to the street, is part of the explanation.

Butts contain a filter which is made out of a type of plastic, as well as the wrapper which is paper and will biodegrade. The plastic, in common with other plastics, takes years to degrade and then only into tiny pieces that survive in the environment.

We know from inspecting our harbours that billions of cigarette butts lie on the sea floor.  The nicotine they contain is toxic to wildlife.

By 2015, the world is predicted to be consuming 9 trillion filtered cigarettes a year.  Read about our big butt problem here.

Support the Waitara Three

The actions by Taranaki Regional Council in holding three individuals responsible for costs incurred in a hearing, rather than the group for whom they signed on behalf, sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of country. The Council has determinedly pursued this through court action, almost certainly incurring more in legal fees than the debt they claim but they won’t release this information under the OIA unless the applicants pay $461.00 up front – applicants plural because at least eight different people have requested this information. They also refused to release the information to Radio New Zealand unless they paid for it though the sum to be charged was $81 per hour, for an unspecified number of hours.

The group involved is Friends of Waitara River – and the Waitara certainly needs friends. For a long time it was the waste disposal unit for the town’s freezing works which pumped waste down the old blood chute straight into the river (great herring fishing ground, according to older locals). While that has stopped, the river is often the receptacle for overflows from the town’s storm water and even sewage systems. Water quality in the area is so bad that there are signs warning about contaminated shellfish on the local reefs.

The group made a submission on three resource consents related to extending the time permitted for emergency discharge to the water way (emergencies are more frequent than occasional) and requested an independent commissioner to hear the consent applications lodged by New Plymouth District Council to Taranaki Regional Council (TRC). The latter council said they would charge for the independent commissioner but never gave a definite figure.

Friends of Waitara River lacked legal status at the time so their submission was signed by three members. By the time the hearing was held, the group was an incorporated society.

TRC could have decided to carry the cost of the independent commissioner, but they didn’t. They could have decided to bill the group involved, but they didn’t. Instead they deliberately and zealously set out to bill the three individuals who signed the submission. They won in court and on appeal because of the legal technicality of the few weeks between signing and when the group became an incorporated society. They were also awarded costs on the first court hearing but not the appeal.

The court did not take into account multiple failures in procedure by TRC.

  • They added a fourth consent which was much larger and more complex to the hearing on the three consents and billed FOWR for costs related to independent commissioners for that fourth consent, even though the group had not requested this.
  • They failed to provide details of costs in advance of the hearing.
  • FOWR requested AN independent commissioner. TRC had already decided to employ TWO independent commissioners and added a THIRD commissioner – billing FOWR for the additional commissioner.
  • TRC admitted in court that the costs incurred as a result of the FOWR request for an independent commissioner were around $5000, but they continue to charge them the original $12000 (plus unspecified additional costs of recovery).
  • TRC have refused to negotiate an out of court settlement. They have refused to even meet with FOWR or to permit a delegation to speak to councillors.
  • TRC even refused to receive a delegation of local kaumatua who wanted to speak to them about the actions.
  • TRC refuses to recognise that FOWR tracks its origins back to 1980 and the hearings into the establishment of the Motunui plant (now methanol but back then a Think Big flagship project turning gas into petrol) with their long sea outfall to sea. Then there was the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into discharging waste to water around Waitara in 1982. The Friends have continued in various forms, advocating for the water and the river and beach environments ever since, as well as being active in environmental projects. The issues have continued for 35 years now and so have some of the group members.

Sadly New Plymouth District Council, whose consents are at the heart of the issue, have wrung their hands in faux sympathy, nodded sagely and walked away.

All this means that three individuals are facing a bill – the exact amount of which remains unknown at this stage but is likely to be closer to $30, 000 than $20, 000.

The real danger of what the Taranaki Regional Council has done is to ensure that nobody will ever make submissions to consents again where costs are threatened. Nor is the public able to use the OIA to try and find out information. Democracy, Taranaki-style, anybody?

The clearest message to them would be country-wide outrage at what they have done and widespread support for the Give A Little page. https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/supportthewaitara3/

Please help and do not let this council bankrupt these three individuals.

 

Ecological transition in Hawke’s Bay

In this third article in a series reviewing the responses to a survey ECO undertook on ecological restoration and conservation work being performed by the voluntary sector in New Zealand, ECO HECUA intern Emily Donaldson looks at the work being done by the Ahuriri Estuary Restoration Group:

Transitioning from fresh water to open coast, estuaries support a diverse range of habitats and human activities, serving as an integral part of  our New Zealand cultural identity. The complexity of these ecological systems proffer many ecosystem services including food production, recreational opportunities, trade hubs, and processing contaminants from the land.

The intricacy of the ecological interrelationships and ecosystem processes demand comprehensive research and precautionary management. Current New Zealand estuarine ecosystems still harbour high biodiversity, despite many stressors, such as the location of most major cities near estuarine ecosystems.

Thankfully, environmental groups and organizations like the Ahuriri Estuary Restoration Group, Forest and Bird, and the Department of Conservation are looking after these critical and fragile ecosystems. Ahuriri Estuary Restoration Group aims to sustain the health of this estuary primarily through weed control and plantings, typically over about 40 hectares of the lower estuary. This volunteer group formed in 2003 after fire destroyed an area of 10 year old plantings in the lower Ahuriri estuary, working to plant native species (manuka, flax, kowhai, and more), clean-up rubbish, maintain signage and tracks, and remove many weeds, such as wattle and boneseed.

The Restoration Group keep track of some of its exceptional work; in taking ECO’s Environmental Group Survey, they contributed even more information on their commendable efforts. 300 to 600 plants are put in each year, typically in the winter. Although the group honed in on 40 hectares initially, they indicated that the estuary requires 200 hectares of attention. Devoting 150 person-days of work as well as 1,200 volunteer hours, the group is also taking on an advocacy role for conservation and restoration. The stewardship of this estuary and its tangible results were acknowledged in the survey: “The site has been transformed from a weedy area with few native plants to a well vegetated asset to the local area. Wildlife habitat enhanced and weeds reduced.”

To find out more about the Ahuriri Estuary Restoration Group, click on the following links:

http://www.naturespace.org.nz/groups/ahuriri-estuary-restoration-group

http://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/volunteer/groups/hawkes-bay/ahuriri-estuary-volunteer-group/

Read up on the specifics of New Zealand estuarine ecosystem services at:

http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/77044/1_16_Thrush.pdf