The entry restrictions of Matiu/Somes Island

My previous post criticised some aspects of closed public land, and how DoC sometimes handles it, and so I found it interesting to read a report on Tuesday of DoC rangers being verbally abused in a comparable scenario. It occurred after they instructed two divers to immediately leave the shore of Matiu/Somes Island, in the middle of Wellington Harbour, and return to sea. To be clear, this is not the type of land closure I referred to in my previous post. It happened in a Reserve rather than a National Park or Conservation Area, and the land is legally closed (except for entry under strict entry rules) for reasons appropriate for the purpose of the reserve.

The highest concern here with people landing uncontrolled on the edge of this island is a biosecurity concern for the Scientific Reserve, whereby unwanted pests could enter the island and wreak havoc amongst its local eco-systems that rely on the island’s status for their protection. Scientific Reserves are specifically set aside “for the purpose of protecting and preserving in perpetuity for scientific study, research, education, and the benefit of the country, ecological associations, plant or animal communities, types of soil, geomorphological phenomena, and like matters of special interest”. (That’s from section 21 of the Reserves Act.)

Unlike National Parks and Conservation Areas, New Zealand’s law infers that access to most of our Reserves is more of a privilege than a right, and I think it’s great that DoC enables people to visit and experience places like Matiu/Somes Island Scientific and Historic Reserve and Kapiti Island Nature Reserve, which often have conservationally critical priorities that are different from letting people casually see what happens within. Some other Reserves, such as the Codfish Island Nature Reserve—one of the islands critical for the Kakapo Recovery Programme—have extremely restricted access by humans, for good reason.

The Reserves Act places less emphasis on automatic public access for reserves than the Conservation and National Parks Acts, and provides more flexibility for the Minister and DoC to restrict access. In this case, the protection is to allow the flora, fauna and history within Matiu/Somes Island to be available for education and possible scientific study, even to the extent that might require restricting people’s entry.

Matiu/Somes Island is partly a Scientific Reserve and partly an Historic Reserve. Several months after its declaration, bylaws were declared in line with the reserve’s purpose, which restricted public entry to specific times and to specific places that have staffed biosecurity check-points. The bylaws also prevent any boats from remaining at the jetties except to load and off-load passengers.

The linked article suggests a possible $2,000 fine for breaching these conditions, but my reading from the Reserves Act is a possible $2,500 fine, which would likely increase to a possible $100,000 fine, 2 years imprisonment or community service if the Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Bill is rubber-stamped through parliament soon. (More on this soon.)

For the record, I’m partial towards accepting closure of parts of National Parks and Conservation Areas, with due care, in cases where there’s a demonstrated need to protect flora and fauna from human impact. If there’s a long term or permanent need for entry to be restricted, however, I think that land needs to be properly classified using the Reserves Act. It’s mostly the notion of land being closed for “public safety” reasons which I have an issue with, as well as being told that places are closed when they aren’t, or when the legal means hasn’t been clearly indicated.

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