‘We’ve lost so much’ – Team NZ’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke’s Live Ocean charity release new video series to save Hauraki Gulf

Sue Neureuter’s father used to catch fat, metre-long kingfish from the shore of the Noises islands using just a hook and a piece of orange peel.

You hear this barely believable anecdote in the first few seconds of Songs of the Sea – a new multimedia series about the alarming ecological desolation of the Hauraki Gulf.

Produced by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke’s charity Live Ocean, the online video series records the voices of those who can remember the former bounty of the gulf that extends east of Auckland city.

The first episode released today on nzherald.co.nz documents stories from Sue Neureuter’s childhood on the Hauraki Gulf islands, the Noises, which her family have owned since 1933.

“Dad spent his childhood out there with every holiday he could. He talked about never ever having to go fishing from the dinghy,” she says

“He talked about the sea boiling with trevally. And by the time, even when I was a kid, you never saw that, and you hardly caught trevally.”

“Even when Mum first got to the Noises in the late 50s, Dad used to make her row out and he’d put his rugby jersey on and plop over the side and pick crayfish up and dump them around her feet.”

Crayfish are now functionally extinct in the Hauraki Gulf, with barely 10 per cent of the original breeding population remaining outside marine reserves.

Only four of the 15 most commonly caught fish in the Gulf are at or above sustainable levels and eleven are in danger of local extinction.

Four short Songs of the Sea videos will be released online over the coming weeks focusing on prominent figures from the Hauraki Gulf’s recent history. The multimedia series is produced in partnership with NZ Geographic.

Among these are pioneer divers from the 1960s, Keith and Ailsa Lewis, and archival interviews from legendary marine advocate Wade Doak and kaumatua Laly Haddon.

Team NZ’s Burling and Turk started the marine charity Live Ocean in 2019 after witnessing the diminishing marine life on the Hauraki Gulf upon which they will be defending the America’s Cup come March 6.

“We’ve lost so much in 50 or 60 years but for the younger generation, we tend to think what we’re seeing today is ‘normal’. It’s not,” Burling says.

“We’ve talked to lots of people who remember the boil-ups that used to be common in the Gulf — schools of trevally as far as the eye can see, hapukū close to shore and seabirds in their thousands.”

Turk echoes that the pristine surface of the Hauraki Gulf waters belies the ecological emergency below.

“Above the waterline it still looks great, but when you go under water, it’s a different story,” Tuke says.

“In the inner gulf, the reefs are a patchwork of kina barrens… bare rock where there should be kelp. As you come further into the harbour the effects of sediment on the seafloor and visibility are really obvious. The balance has changed, and it’s frightening to see this decline.”

Nearly one third of the world’s marine mammal species live in or visit the Hauraki Gulf, and in the past two decades, no-take marine protection has increased just 0.05 per cent, to 0.3 per cent.

Internationally, scientists are demanding 30 per cent protection for the Hauraki Gulf by 2030 – and it’s a stated goal of Live Ocean.

Scientists say there is no one single threat to the Hauraki Gulf – the decline is caused by a combination of fishing pressure, invasive species, land-based activity and climate change.

Live Ocean is asking people to share what future they’d like for the Hauraki Gulf at @itsliveocean on IG and Facebook.

You can also donate towards Live Ocean’s major conservation projects at liveocean.com

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