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History of Forest & Bird Motu Manawa Restoration Group

Motu Manawa (Pollen Island) Marine Reserve Restoration

At about 500 hectares in area, the Motu Manawa (Pollen Island) Marine Reserve is Auckland’s largest inner city estuarine wildlife refuge still preserved in its mostly natural state. Situated in the Waterview inlet of Waitemata Harbour, the marine reserve was established in 1995 to protect a diverse saltwater wetland habitat comprised of intertidal mudflats, tidal channels, mangrove swamp, saltmarsh, shellbanks, tussock and scrubland.  From the 1880s until the 1950s, over 90% of Auckland’s wetlands were drained or otherwise compromised, so the marine reserve’s rich area is prized by wetland birds as one of their most significant feeding and breeding grounds in the upper Waitemata Harbour.  Forest and Bird was responsible for sponsoring the marine reserve’s establishment.

Birds to be found within the boundaries of the marine reserve include fernbird, grey warbler, banded rail, pukeko, spotless crake, white-faced heron, red billed gull, black backed gull, white-fronted tern, Caspian tern, godwit, knot, sandpiper, black oystercatcher, South Island pied oystercatcher, wrybill, pied stilt, pied shag, royal spoonbill, New Zealand dotterel, banded dotterel, kingfisher, harrier and on one very rare occasion in 2013, three Australian pelicans.  Truly a birdwatcher’s paradise!  These birds are drawn in by vast quantities of food for the taking including insects, mud crabs, mud snails, bivalves, and schooling fish such as yellow eyed mullet.

Two islands are surrounded by the marine reserve.   One is Pollen Island, an open scientific reserve under management by the Department of Conservation.  The other is Traherne Island, which is Crown land held for public works under management by NZTA.  From the 19th to the 20th centuries, both islands were historically in private ownership and exploited for their cockle shellbanks, with the shells collected and burned into lime for use as construction mortar and agricultural fertilizer.  Since the 1950s, previously isolated Traherne Island has had the State Highway 16 motorway causeway running directly across it.  Before it became an open scientific reserve, Pollen Island was leased from the Auckland Harbour Board and managed as a private wildlife sanctuary by Forest and Bird from 1995 to 2005.     

In recent years, in part stimulated by the Waterview Connection Project and reconstruction planned for the State Highway 16 motorway causeway, there has been revived interest in the Motu Manawa (Pollen Island) Marine Reserve and the pair of islands it encloses, with more resources being dedicated progressively to conservation and restoration in this precious wetland habitat by authorities such as Auckland Council, NZTA and the Department of Conservation.  Official weed and pest management plans are being implemented, boardwalks and other public access amenities are proposed, and environmental community groups like Forest and Bird have actively returned to provide volunteer services such as guided walks to the islands and predator control. For those with a bigger picture in mind, it would be wonderful to see the marine reserve extended to protect the wading bird feeding grounds of tidal foreshore and seabed along the eastern coastline of Te Atatu Peninsula.      

For more information, see the webpages of the Forest and Bird Motu Manawa Restoration Group at key words “motu manawa”.