Protecting the waters of Aotea
Aotea, (Great Barrier Island) has a waste problem. But the problem is not caused by the islanders. The problem is caused by an EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) decision to allow Coastal Resources, a company, to dump 250,000 cubic metres of toxic dredge sludge every year for the next 35 years, at a dumpsite 25km east of Great Barrier Island, the waste dredged from developments in Auckland, Northland and Waikato. The EPA is said to have notified a number of iwi authorities, including the Ngāti Rehua-Ngātiwai ki Aotea Trust, and to have engaged with the Great Barrier Island Local Board.
However, many islanders oppose it due to the effect that it will surely have on the marine and coastal life around the island. Since Aotea has no supermarkets, the kaimoana in the water is an important source of sustenance, and this decision will heavily impact the quality of these waters. Prior to the EPA’s decision, the sludge dumping was set at a rate of 50,000 cubic metres annually. To put matters into perspective, the new status quo will be the equivalent of eight litres of waste pouring into the waters every second - for 35 years. The first lot would include 70,000 cubic metres from the America’s Cup Development.
The island is located in an isolated area, 100 kilometres from the mainland of New Zealand. To press ahead with this policy would destroy the pristine environment and moana that has been preserved. Furthermore, culturally, it would be destructive, since the water plays an important role in the cultural whakapapa of most of the island’s Māori residents. The main iwi found on the island is Ngāti Wai. Wai means water in Te Reo Māori - and this decision has a direct adverse effect on exactly that - te wai. The decision increases the dumping rate by five times, which seems incredibly drastic without knowing the full impact on the surrounding environment.
Fighting the decision
Locals are doing what they can to protect the waters of Aotea. The environmental group Protect Aotea fights not only to appeal the EPA’s decision, but to present matters from a Māori viewpoint. This enables stakeholders to understand the true harms they are causing. In July 2019, Protect Aotea led a march up Queen Street to protest the decision.
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