Sponge Gardens Discovered

By Danny Boulton

The saying ‘know your own back yard’ came back to me recently after spending 10 days in New Zealand’s outer Marlborough Sounds.

Earlier this year we became involved with ‘Sustain our Sounds Inc’ (SOS) a group put together to fight applications for nine new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

King Salmon already have seven farms, how many does one company need I wondered? With King Salmon having a budget of $8m and putting out an application comprising thousands of pages, it was going to be one hell of a fight. King Salmon is majority owned by the Malaysian Tiong Family who are some of the richest people on the planet. Their environmental track record is, to say the least, questionable.

Of concern was the realization that they would put polluting marine piggeries ‘salmon farms’ in fast flow areas. Some of these fast flow areas are listed as ‘ecologically significant’. Some of the other unlisted sites, as we were to find out, would have greater bio diversity than those previously listed.

With all night lighting the farms simulate battery hens. The lights causing the fish to feed and grow faster. The fish feed on chicken feather and chicken blood meal, fish meal, fish oil, mammalian blood meal, faba beans, soy protein, wheat, sunflower meal and vegetable oil. It makes you wonder exactly what it is you end up eating.

Companies trumpet the benefits of omega three, which is less in farmed salmon compared to wild salmon. Farmed salmon also have a higher content of omega six which, in larger doses, is detrimental to human health.

For a company to blatantly target these high flow ‘ecologically significant’ areas with a projected pollution output of up to half a million people is, to put it simply, ‘prostituting the Sounds’. They pay no rent, are majority overseas owned and have fast tracked the proposal through the EPA process. A fast paced process that is costly and very difficult for individuals and small communities to fight. It is a sign of our times where corporate greed, fuelled by big cheque books can industrialise areas of uniqueness.

King Salmon claim they are responsible operators, Cawthron reports show different. King Salmon’s Whahinau Bay Farm in the Pelorus was red stickered after thousands of fish died. Not a good advertisement for discerning tourists wanting to visit the Sounds. Thousands and thousands of dead fish have been dumped in the local tip and thousands rendered for pet food.

If you went near the farm you were advised to wash everything down, no concern for dolphins, seals, birds, fish and what the current flows would spread to the wider Sounds.

Earlier in the year SOS had commissioned Keith Gordon to bring his ROV down and survey all the proposed sites. This showed sites to be more than just a mud bottom. Supported by Jesus Ruiz Lopez from Reef Check NZ we took to the water and found some very interesting things. We put down drop cameras to film the deeper water and came up with invertebrates no one has yet been able to classify.

We dived and drifted reefs and outcrops and found crabs nestling in sponges that I had never seen before. We glided over vast sponge gardens and saw small fish, anemones, nudibranch (a colourful purple slug), hydroids (small fern like, yellow and fawn trees bending to the current). We were greeted by bottle nose, Dusky, common and Hectors dolphin and got to share in some great outer Sounds hospitality.

The trip opened my eyes to a unique waterway and underwater world. In past years with the Nelson Underwater Club I have just cruised past these sites heading for a wreck or the outer Islands.

Having dived Australia’s Great Barrier and Ningaloo Reefs, the Pacific Islands and the Galapagos I marvelled at the uniqueness of our own back yard. The Sounds are certainly a unique marine habitat found nowhere else in the world and we have to accept that we do not fully know or understand it.

Relatively few studies have focused on identifying, surveying and assessing marine habitats in Marlborough. Our understanding and knowledge of the coastal and marine environment is limited. That is why I feel so concerned for the future of the Sounds. We are industrializing it at a hectic rate. How much free water space does one overseas owned company need?

After dropping a camera beneath many farms and seeing salmon faeces falling like snow I shudder to think of these farms taking over the fast flow areas, the richest fisheries and marine habitats. All the sites we looked at were ‘Ecologically significant’ some with more bio diversity than existing sites that have been recorded as ‘Ecologically significant’. That is why they are worth looking after, they are our future.

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Financial contributions are appreciated. Contact Danny Boulton, Chair, Sustain our Sounds Inc.

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