OBC: An engaging club

Nov 17, 2017 Environment ,General Interest

When – almost two decades ago – members of Auckland’s Outboard Boating Club (OBC) embraced a conservation drive to help rehabilitate some of the Hauraki Gulf’s uninhabited islands, they had little idea how the programme would come to resonate with the public.

OBC’s conservation programme, says CEO Brian Hood, began in the early 2000s when members pooled skills, resources and good, old-fashioned elbow grease to help with the rehabilitation of Motuihe Island.

“The concept of us helping the Department of Conservation (DoC) with Motuihe’s rehabilitation was first mooted by one of our members – John Laurence – a chap I’d describe as a sort of visionary environmentalist. A classic doer with unbridled enthusiasm and energy. As a boating club with plenty of vessels, we not only had access to a relatively remote island, but also

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“Specifically, our members volunteered – under DoC’s guidance – to help with clearing the island of weeds and setting traps to eradicate predators such as rats and stoats. And once this was completed, the focus shifted to introducing thousands of native trees. Not only fund-raising to buy the trees, but also the actual, physical planting.

“Our members organised mini-armadas to carry all the volunteers and they descended on the island over many
years. These working bees usually took place on a Sunday. Overall, a daunting task – but also enormous fun.”

Since then, he points out, the island’s become a microreserve and something of a conservation showpiece. Former PM Helen Clark later released a few kiwis on the island to mark its predator-free status, and subsequently, more kiwis and tuataras have been released.

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Visitors to the revitalised island can enjoy any number of walks among native flora and fauna or have a picnic on the island. In the not too distant future, says Hood, there will be an app available to guide visitors through the walks and highlight interesting facts, bird life and Motuihe’s colourful history.

OBC’s work with the island, he adds, is unlikely to end any time soon. “Keeping on top of the weeds is an ongoing task – seeds blow across the water from the mainland and other islands in the Gulf. This programme sees close involvement with Motuihe Trust, which meets regularly here at the club.”

Success at Motuihe has given the club the confidence and enthusiasm to lend a hand to another island in dire need of help. Browns Island or Motukorea, says Hood, has plenty of colourful history dating to the days of farmer settlers who tended sheep and cattle. Many rock walls and fences remain from the period. Quite a few old steamers were scuttled many years ago and some of their remains can still be found.

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“Today, fortunately, the island is free of rabbits or pests, but sadly, it’s covered in kikuyu grass – an invasive species that’s very difficult to eradicate. The island suffered a major fire a year ago, and that became a kind of trigger to launch OBC’s rehabilitation help programme.”

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Again, working under Auckland Council Rangers’ guidance, OBC members’ initial focus is to get rid of the many weeds and clear the beaches of plastic and other rubbish, and replant the island with native trees and shrubs.

“We haven’t made much progress this year because of the awful weather,” says Hood, “things will pick up over summer. But we’ve been surprised by the approach we’ve had from the local community. Members of the public who want to help – they’ve read about the programme on Facebook. All they need is the transport to get there – and we are delighted to oblige.”

As an aside, it is thanks to one man that Browns Island is in a position to be rehabilitated at all. Older readers may recall that one of Auckland’s more environmentallyaware and visionary mayors – Sir Dove Myer-Robinson – successfully (and almost single-handedly) prevented the island becoming a permanent environmental disaster in the early 1960s. The Council of the period planned to use the island as a dumping ground for Auckland’s sewage and offal from its slaughterhouses.

Thank you Dove!

OBC’s conservation efforts have also earned it Blue Flag Accreditation – an internationally-recognised environmental programme geared specifically to the marine industry. New Zealand has two other accredited facilities – The Landing haul-out facility in Auckland’s Hobson Bay, and Westhaven Marina.

“To qualify,” says Hood, “we’ve had to implement and monitor a variety of programmes. This includes – for example – making sure club members don’t discharge contaminated bilge water into the marina. So we’ll be asking all boat owners to introduce a filter between their bilge pump and hull outlets, and the bilges of all new boats will be inspected. Another alternative technique is placing an ‘absorption’ mat in bilges – to take up any spilt oil or diesel.”

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Initial accreditation involves a 12-month programme – independently assessed – and the Club is re-assessed every year.

“I like to think that accreditation is part of the OBC ethos,” says Hood. “We want to be able to show our local communities that we are being good guardians or custodians. And ironically, it’s not particularly difficult. It just requires a little extra care.”