Honouring Past Struggles: Whangamata Protest 2008

In July 2008, Hauraki Māori and other community members of Whangamata occupied the proposed car park area of the Whangamata marina. What led them to this point?

Te Matatuhi (the marina site) is the ancestral name of tangata whenua for the specific lands subject to the proposed marina. Te Matatuhi is land of particular significance to Ngāti Whānaunga. ‘Mata’ in both Whangamata and Matatuhi refers to the black volcanic rock obsidian. Mata has long been a principle reason for why Maori live in Whangamata, as the rock was widely sought after for its fine cutting edge. The harbour facilitated trade and many battles were fought in the area.

Various Pākehā business figures had eyed up the Te Matatuhi as a place to build a marina from the mid-twentieth century, but it wasn’t until 1992 that the Whangamata Marina Society was formed and approved the district council to buy the land. In 1996 hearings began on the Whangamata Marina Proposal. Te Rūnanga a Iwi o Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Whānaunga, Te Kupenga o Ngāti Hako, the Whangamata Maori Komiti and other iwi groups consistent in their opposition to the marina proposal from the start and made many submissions and appeals.

The reasons for the iwi groups’ opposition to the marina were extensive, and included the following concerns: that the marina would destroy traditional fishing grounds due to significant and ongoing dredging of the channel where their kaimoana grounds are, a lack of respect of the ancestral ties to Moanaanuanu Estuary and Whangamata Harbour, destruction of wetlands which are important to bird life and the endangered moko skink, and removal of public access to the beach.

The next milestone of the marina was March 2006, when the then Minister of Conservation refused consent. His decision was judicially reviewed by the marina developers and sent back to him, then passed on to the then Environment Minister in the interests of transparency. He allowed the marina to go ahead in December 2006 provided that strict conditions were met regarding containment of dredged materials during construction and monitoring of the world famous surf break at the estuary’s entrance. In the first half of 2008, there were several changes to the proposal.

Approximately 30 Hauraki Maori and community members occupied the proposed car park area of the marina for 18 days in July 2008 until they received assurance from Environment Minister Trevor Mallard that he would review the consent process. One of the reasons they felt occupation as necessary was to raise awareness about the changes to the marina development over recent months that the community had not been privy to because they were all processed on a non-notified basis. Spokesperson Nathan Kennedy [Ngāti Whānaunga] was quoted as asking, “what happened to access for all under the Foreshore and Seabed legislation?”

When the marina was built, Waitangi Tribunal Claim Wai 262 had not yet been completed. This is a wide-ranging claim about the management, use, and commercialisation of indigenous flora and fauna, and thus may have had impact on what happened in Whangamata.

Sadly, the outcome of the occupation was that in September of 2008 the marina society began construction without all obligations being met. Several rare species were displaced or exterminated for the development, including the rare Oligosoma moco skink. The marina opened in November 2009.

Juliet Thomberson

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