I first heard about the Kermadec Islands when I was a kid reading adventure sailing books. I'd been given a book by Butler Graham who sailed on the Ngataki in the 1930s. The book was the story of Johnny Wray - South Sea Vagabonds - who built his boat in 1932 and then sailed around Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand. At one time he dreamed up the idea of gathering 'oranges' on 'Sunday Island' and then selling them back in New Zealand.
These days the island is called Raoul Island and is the largest and northernmost of the Kermadec Group. This falls within New Zealand economic zone and the waters around the islands are pristine, and untouched by commercial fishing. There is a move to keep them this way. The National Party first proposed the sanctuary but their partners, The Maori Party, objected. As Kaitiaki or guardians of their traditional fishing grounds they stated that Iwi need to be consulted. Nationals high handed ways got their back up.
Now another attempt is being made - Kermadec Sanctuary on Cabinet’s hook
- but the sticking point is again Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi. It's a complicated point where guardianship, meets Maori commercial interests, meets the desire to preserve.
At present there is no exploitation - which is sort of the point of the proposal... to keep the area pristine. But future Maori corporations want the option to fish there. How to square this without trampling on obligations?
It seems to me that the sanctuary should be a permanent no-take zone for commercial fishing, but that traditional fishing, and lifestyle fishing could be accommodated. These low impact uses of the sanctuary would not impact greatly, and yet preserve the right to fish for Maori. What should be prevented is the commercialisation of the sanctuary by Maori, or anyone.
And why preserve? The area has been surveyed and there are unique seamounts that rise from the ocean floor like undersea islands. They are hotspots of biodiversity and should be protected - not only in and of themselves... but as places where protected species could spread to other parts of the ocean improving resiliancy.
I'm no lawyer - but on land the Crown is able to define land for national parks, so surely the same should be possible at sea. I believe that all parties need to get over themselves and push this sanctuary forward - and then look to other parts of the ocean where protection is possible - as biodiversity hotspots that can replenish neighbouring fished areas.
Kaitaiki should mean more than preservation and guardianship of the right to commercial exploitation. It needs to be true preservation and protection. And as to the rest of the islands - surely they could be looked at as places where forests and indigenous species should be protected, with predators removed... but perhaps the few orange trees could be kept as reminders of a more romantic time.