Will Waiheke Island be the next UNESCO Biosphere Reserve?

18 Sep 2010

Waiheke Island is home to a great number of conservation groups, all working to enhance the natural character and biodiversity of the Island. There is also an ethos of social responsibility towards the Island’s people.

The Waiheke UNESCO Reserve Association is confident that this commitment to its community and conservation, coupled with the island’s ecological significance would make Waiheke a suitable candidate for becoming New Zealand’s first UNESCO Biosphere reserve.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are places set on a path of ‘sustainable development’. This has been defined as development that …

“meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Reserves are involved in both environmental conservation and economic and social development. They think long term and initiate projects to ensure communities survive and retain their essential identities without damaging the environment.


The Biosphere Wananga

As part of the process involved in preparing an application for the establishment of a biosphere Reserve on Waiheke Island a Biosphere Wananga was held at Piritahi Marae on Sept 5th.
Huhana Davis told the fifty people assembled at Piritahi marae that she had “heard a rainbow”. She was referring to the wananga on the Unesco Biosphere project.
Colin Beardon opened the discussion on ways to achieve Biosphere Reserve status for the island. Contrary to what its opponents say, the route does not involve any changes in law whatsoever. When the new Board passes a motion in favour of the idea, the Auckland Council is obliged to support it as a local issue. Nikki Kaye is committed to promoting Waiheke’s application to UNESCO through the parliamentary process. The idea has cross-party support, so Jacinta Ardern will do the same should there be a change of government. It is then up to the central government to work with the local Biosphere Management Group to form an accord with UNESCO. This would be a first for New Zealand. It will join the 109 nations who have 564 biosphere reserves between them.
Pita Rikys (Chairman, Waiheke Planning Group) outlined the ways in which the values of our indigenous people are entirely in keeping with the UNESCO Biosphere ethos of the protection of nature and natural resources. Huhana reminded people of the kaupapa wairua principles underlying the recently-signed Declaration of Human Rights.
Brian Griffiths (Chairman, Hauraki Islands Forest & Bird) strongly and wisely defended our “extraordinary island” from those people, such as John Collings, who claim we have no special ecological status. Brian listed some of the many features we have that it is important to preserve. We have over 30 sites of ecological significance, and we are the source of important plant material that is used for regeneration purposes on other Gulf islands. Waiheke is possum-free. We have Whakanewha Regional Park, Te Matuku Marine Reserve, the Maori block in that area, three Forest & Bird Reserves and important wetlands, plus many restoration, research and pest control projects, and walkway systems. The list goes on.
John Stansfield (Director Clean Stream - Waiheke Waste Resources Trust) suggested ways in which Waihekeans can take control of their own destiny by describing his vision of a local economy based around fulfilling our own needs. We lost a potential $26 million of resources over the next 10 years when ACC took away control of our waste system and replaced our waste recovery park with a transfer station. When asked about the means towards Waiheke’s self-determination, John said that to take control of our political destiny is the first step.
Before the chair, Emma Bowyer-Warner, brought proceedings to a close, Huhana Davis expressed the marae committee’s support for the Waiheke Biosphere Reserve. She spoke of the example of islanders who walked the talk, many of whom were at the meeting. She then spoke of people like Don Chapple who saved seeds and planted them so that now we have Tane Mahuta all the way to the wharf. “We need this umbrella of the Biosphere Reserve to bring us together to walk in unity” she said.

An application from Waiheke would have a reasonably good chance of being accepted by UNESCO. This is based on current work on biodiversity, the legal protections currently in place, and the steps we have taken towards economic sustainability, and the monitoring and research that has taken place.
Those who support this proposal believe it will enable the residents of Waiheke greater influence over the well being of its people, its land and its native species.

To find out more or register your support visit www.WaihekeBR.info