The recent well-publicised battle between the developers of the Kennedy Point Marina on Waiheke Island, and local occupiers and iwi, has highlighted the absence of sufficient protection for wildlife during the resource consent process under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).
WReNNZ members are inevitably caught up in poorly executed construction as they have to care for affected wildlife or are called upon for their expertise. Well-known Waiheke Island rehabilitator and WReNNZ member, Karen Saunders, has been in the thick of the conflict since being asked by the contractors to remove Kororā the day before they planned to remove rocks from the breakwater as part of the marina construction. As Kororā are residents of the rock wall and there was no plan to relocate the displaced Kororā, Karen declined to remove them.
A rehabilitator's role is to care for sick and injured wildlife, not remove healthy birds from their habitat, particularly during a moult or breeding season. Penguins in moult are extremely vulnerable, and it is impossible to move breeding birds without risking abandonment of the nest or damage to the eggs or chicks. As penguins are typically in moult between January to March and breed around July to February, the construction was taking place around the end and start of the two critical periods in the life of the penguins. With seasons changing every year, and consequently the breeding seasons of wildlife, without careful investigation of the status of the local Kororā population, there was a risk to the wellbeing of these little penguins.
The request for Karen to remove the penguins raised concerns about the quality of the management plans required by the resource consent and the compliance with the consents in general. What followed was a growing public call for better protection for the Kororā and better compliance monitoring by regulators such as Auckland Council, and DOC, as the custodian of New Zealand's wildlife. It appears that neither Auckland Council nor DOC was particularly diligent in approving the Penguin Management Plan that was supposed to protect the local Kororā population.
The RMA was put in place to enable development without negatively affecting the environment. It is a well-intentioned piece of legislation, but it requires diligent compliance monitoring to ensure that the intent of the Consent is met in the execution by the developer and/or contractor. Too often, it seems that once the Consent is granted, the owner of that Consent loses sight of the intent and proceeds down a route of "do the minimum and just tick the boxes". Our unique New Zealand environment deserves much more respect; if we are to have confidence in the RMA and support development projects, we need to know that those institutions entrusted with ensuring compliance and protecting our environment are diligently doing their job.
In the case of the Waiheke marina development, it seems that those regulators were not very diligent in ensuring that the carefully crafted consent conditions were executed as required. Well done, Karen, the local community and iwi for challenging the construction methodology and helping protect the Kororā that also call Waiheke home.
WReNNZ calls for regulators such as Auckland Council and DOC to take more responsibility and ensure compliance with Resource Consent conditions. Our WReNNZ members would rather see wildlife protected in their habitat than have to attend to the displacement or injury of our wildlife due to poorly executed construction. As citizens and taxpayers, we have a right to expect this from our regulators.
Written by Brian Robertson – Chairperson WReNNZ