South Pacific Centre for Marine Science
at theLeigh Marine Laboratory of the University of Auckland
A plan to kill the Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre?

By Dr J Floor Anthoni (Jan 2009)

Another blow by Government? The University of Auckland plans to establish a public "educational outreach centre" as part of extensions to the Leigh Marine Laboratory, now renamed the South Pacific Centre for Marine Studies (SPCMS). The new centre is "for visitors to the area and school children in Auckland and Northland to better understand the marine environment". However, this function has for 16 years been fulfilled by the Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre located at the Goat Island Road, a mere 1km from the sea and the Marine Laboratory. So why would the New Zealand Government attempt to kill an established private institute with a long track record of excellence in marine education for the public?

Begin your study of the sea at the Seafriends home page or our sitemap.
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-- Seafriends home --  -- Rev:20090114,20090528,

An interpretation centre for Goat Island has been a long time in the planning. First promoted by university lecturer Brian Foster, on a location far east (left of the photo below) at the edge of the University's land. This centre would stand 30m above the sea overlooking a steep rock face, affectionately known as Lovers Leap. Access to the sea is possible but not for the general public. The Centre was to have public aquariums directly fed from the sea below. This proposal even became funded by the ASB Community Trust and Lotto until they discovered that they had not been given full disclosure that another marine interpretation centre was already operating, a mere 1km away from the Laboratory, named Seafriends. Funds then dried up.
One would have thought that the marine scientists behind this idea would have learnt that an interpretation centre would not be possible without consent from and co-operation with Seafriends, but they have not. The idea was picked up again by American professor of physical oceanography and global warming believer Malcolm Bowman who visualised the public watching the sea below through video screens as students with video cameras ranged the seas below. That such ideas were mere balderdash did not occur to the fraternity. Again through lack of funding, the idea was shelved.

The latest idea is strange indeed as it plans to demolish a functional laboratory wing of the Leigh Laboratory and install the interpretation centre there, now named Educational Outreach Centre. Budgeted at $14 million, todays head of department John Montgomery plans to go ahead with initial funding of $4.5 million from the Elisabeth Winstone Blackwell Foundation, which has also been left in the dark about Seafriends. We wonder how well  that will be received.
The Outreach Centre is perceived by many as a false flag operation to expand the facilities of the Marine Laboratory through solid support from the community but nobody knows what the 14 million is going to be used for. On 18 October anothe false flag operation was carried out by Prime Minister Helen Clark opening the South Pacific Centre for Marine Science, a bloated new name for the Marine Lab.

John Montgomery has been canvassing the local community for support, by throwing lavishly catered meetings and by trying to sign up Members of the Leigh Marine Laboratory for a mere $50 per year. However, the locals are less than luke-warm about the proposals as no concrete plans can be produced. So they don't know what they are asked to support. Furthermore they like to see the funds do more for the community and they cannot understand why bureaucrats should be running a state-funded business in competition with an existing marine conservation centre which has been operating for 16 years, with impressive results and with tangible benefits to the local community. Tangata Whenua (the local Maori tribes) also have other plans for the area. Besides, the Goat Island beach area is already full to overflowing and cannot cope with additional traffic. It would be much better to have an interpretation centre where Seafriends is located, away from the beach. This could be achieved with much less money.

We all like New Zealand to excel in marine science, and welcome a gradual expansion of the Marine Laboratory. But we question why the university should busy itself teaching pre-school, primary, intermediate and high schools, and the general public, which could be much better done by others. The scientists have no facilities or experience in guiding school groups in the water and lecturing them at their levels. We also question the pompous name change (SPCMS), as this does not produce better science, much the same as a pompous label does not improve a bad wine.

When asked privately, Laboratory and University staff confide that the Lab does not need the Centre and does not benefit from it. On the contrary, it creates serious disadvantages such as distraction, a busy work load, high traffic of non-university people, security problems (theft, vandalism), and it will be a continuous drain on public funding - forever.

Aerial view of the Marine Laboratory on left, Goat Island bottom right and the Channel in the middle. Goat Island beach extends from the pumphouse to the top right but it is accessible only from the middle by the small creek. The planned outreach centre is located in a laboratory wing which will be relocated elsewhere. Visitors have to park their cars in the top parking and walk about 300 metres to the Centre, down a steep incline by the bridge in the middle. It will be a hurdle for pensioners coming by bus. The additional traffic will be detrimental to people who visit the beach. Buses find turning impossible or difficult. Additional freshwater and sewage facilities threaten the ecology of the marine reserve.

Other marine interpretation centres
Marine science interpretation is traditionally done by public marine aquariums. Many also have school outreach programmes. Here in New Zealand one can visit the following aquariums or marine education centres, from north to south:
  • Whangarei: Experiencing Marine Reserves, a DOC-funded attempt at promoting marine reserves (notice the absence of a link to Seafriends). They do not have a building or classroom or information centre. 
  • Leigh: the Seafriends conservation and education centre with a classroom, dive and snorkel rental and ecosystem aquariums in 8 small habitat tanks with over 100 species. Interesting because it is the world's only full ecosystem where its water no longer returns to the sea. Read a description of the aquarium system and habitats and species and the extensive school programmes including guided snorkelling in the Goat Island marine reserve. Check out its enormous in-depth educational web site (3600 pages, 4000 images) which is entirely free.
  • Auckland: Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic encounter & underwater world, a short ride in a snow mobile and walking in plastic tunnels. Large. Check their education resources to see that they are few, shallow and not free.
  • Napier: National Marine Aquarium, a large central tank with large fish and many other tanks, now also with tunnels. Medium sized. Visit their education pages to see how shallow these are.
  • Wellington: Island Bay Marine Education Centre housed in what was once the marine laboratory of Victoria University, one can visit a few tanks (now housed in a disused bait shed at Island Bay). Small. Efforts to create a large centre nearby have floundered. Click on the link to see how shallow and few their educational resources are.
  • Kaikoura: a very small interpretation centre (no web site).
  • Christchurch: Southern Encounter Aquariums (SEA) small salt and fresh water aquariums. Medium sized. Check their educational resources and programmes and be unimpressed.
  • Dunedin: NZ Marine Studies Centre and Aquariums (NZMSC) of the Otago University, a medium-sized aquarium occupying a large part of the Portobello Marine Laboratory. Click on their education pages to be unimpressed even though they call themselves "a leader in public marine education". Much is not free.
Spend some time to check each establishment while making comparisons to Seafriends. Then realise that Seafriends has never received any outside or public funding!

Portobello marine aquariums
The history of the Portobello marine aquariums is interesting. The Portobello Marine Laboratory near Dunedin, established in 1951, has a large building and facilities, although also lacking an auditorium. Its research has dwindled over time as marine scientists (since 1992) of the University of Otago in Dunedin (NZ's top ranked university for research!!) ran out of ideas, much the same as those of the UoA. They were in fact recalled back to the campus, leaving only a caretaker in the marine laboratory building. So part of the laboratory was first converted into a public classroom to house the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre under Sally Carson (1995, 2 years later than Seafriends), later converted into public aquariums and another building added with reception area and a small conferencing room. Initially this became highly popular but later decayed because of maintenance costs and other problems. But for a while Portobello had the better of Leigh with a marine studies centre and public aquariums (entrance fee adult $12, child $6). Click on the link to see how shallow and trivial it is compared to Seafriends. Is this all the marine scientists of Dunedin can produce? No surprise then that its marine science did not make it to the international top. Visit their links page to see the glaring absence of a link to Seafriends! Silent boycott?

Wellington marine aquariums
Another major effort was made in Wellington which also has a dilapidated marine laboratory at Island Bay, managed by Victor Anderlini, and now adjacent to the new marine reserve. The idea was to create a Kelly Tarlton like aquarium with interpretation centre on a promontory not far from Island Bay, also as an extension to the Te Papa national museum. This plan never made it because it would be very intrusive on the naturalness of the coastal settlement, requiring huge environmental changes for the big complex with parking facilities.
Now a small aquarium and education centre has been installed in the decayed bait shed at Island Bay, named the Island Bay Marine Education Centre. Click on this link to see how naive their programmes are. One good point is that the education centre is separate from the university's marine laboratory, even though it is managed by marine scientists from the university. On page notice two photos stolen from Seafriends (rockfish and porcelain crab), without acknowledgment or permission. On their links page not a reference to Seafriends! Silent boycott?

Department of Conservation educational efforts: DoC finances a number of marine educational efforts to spread state propaganda:
Experiencing Marine Reserves in Whangarei, guiding school groups by snorkelling inside marine reserves. Check their links page where a link to Seafriends is glaringly missing. Also notice its incorporation into the DoC web site, fully funded by DoC and WWF.
MarineNZ, an effort to imitate the kind of information provided by Seafriends, but rather newsy instead. It publishes government-produced documents and propaganda that are available elsewhere. Check their educational pages and of how little use they are, browse their photos and films to see their poor quality. This site is also financially supported by the American WWF organisation.
The Department of Conservation's own web site, a very large web site of a very large government department containing information about their parks and reserves including information centres and camp sites, the act of conservation and much more. It also contains scientific and technical publications of research funded by DoC. The myths and fallacies spread by DoC have repeatedly and extensively been rebutted by us, see the war for marine reserves, and this may continue in the foreseeable future. Note that DoC is a huge department, its marine section small by comparison. Its web site has been redesigned several times in quick succession, now missing an educational section and links. However a marine reserves study kit is still available.

Boycott is an act of war
Why is the NZ Government involved?

Fom the previous chapter it must become clear that marine education in New Zealand is erratic, shallow and mainly driven by state propaganda. The achievements of Seafriends who began in 1990 with a systematic approach from its mission 'to save NZ seas', deserve mentioning first before aksing inconvenient questions and attempting to answer these.

Seafriends began in 1990 and opened its doors to the public in 1992, with a conservation centre and classroom, marine aquariums, a public environmental library, dive rental and a restaurant to finance its operations. In 2009 after 15 years of operation, it can be proud of its achievements:

As can be seen, Seafriends is not a trivial venture and has become of great benefit to society as it reaches out to millions of people. To have the viability of Seafriends threatened by a nearby outreach centre with limited scope, therefore harms not only local New Zealand schools and the wider NZ public, but also a large population of millions in other countries. Evidently, the consequences of what the University of Auckland is doing, have not been thought through carefully enough. But there are more questions.
  Think about it. It just doesn't make sense. Also remember that if Seafriends loses as little as 25%,  its viability will be severely affected, like any other business would.
The Rodney District Council dreclared the huge development non-notifiable which means that neighbours and other affected persons do not need to be consulted and neither do elected councillors. There exists no formal way to lodge objections. Consider for a moment the following facts:
  • 16 protected trees felled, 6 pruned and another 13 at risk
  • 12.6m high science building exceeding height restrictions by 4.6m
  • 10.4m high interpretive/ visitor centre exceeding maximum height by 2.6m
  • new science building height-to-boundary control exceeded by 3m
  • interpretative centre height-to-boundary control exceeded by 2.6m
  • earthworks exceeding the 200m3 limit by 495 m3
  • no consent for right of way affecting neighbouring properties
Are we now living in a fascist state? Is this a cosy agreement between government department, bypassing democratic consultation? This is going to be a huge monstrosity right on one of the most beautiful coastlines and marine reserves in New Zealand! RDC mayor Penny Webster says that "she's certain her staff made the right call." Oops, a $14 million development?

More madness
There have been major problems with financial institutions world-wide, resulting in the coming of perhaps the second large economic depression. All this was entirely predictable, as was the predicament of the New Zealand financial situation. Over two decades of flagrant overspending is now coming home to roost. The economy is tanking, savings have been lost and jobs are vanishing. And right at this precarious time, comes a 14 million questionable extension of Auckland University.
The money for this may just dry up or become missing in dubious financial transactions - who knows? Yet the Outreach Centre which is not needed, has priority. First an entirely functional wing of the laboratory, indeed the main research facility, is demolished to make room for the Outreach Centre. One would have thought that the new laboratory building, which is needed, would be built first while funds are still available, but this is not so. Is it conceivable that the Marine Laboratory ends up with an Outreach Centre but no research laboratory? Is the proposed approach a sensible one? Madness?

Myths and fallacies
The University of Auckland has disseminated pamphlets and brochures with statements that do not ring true. Some background information is in order.
This press release from the UoA web site is annotated by us in blue.
21 June 2008: 

A national and international campaign to raise funds to develop a South Pacific Centre for Marine Science (SPCMS) was launched today by Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark. But Helen Clark did not accept an invitation to visit Seafriends, as she was passing by anyway. She didn't even reply. By opening the SPCMS with inbuilt outreach centre, she unknowingly became complicit in the destruction of Seafriends but nobody told her. Did she read our letter?

The University of Auckland Centre at Leigh, north of Auckland recognises the importance of New Zealandís marine estate and the need for ongoing, high quality research. What is wrong with the quality of research as it is done now? What are the bottlenecks and limitations? Wouldn't we want to know these before spending such a large sum of money?

The $14 million centre will lead this research and train marine science graduate students across disciplines such as biology, oceanography, marine geosciences, geography and physics. This will upgrade existing facilities at the current centre. In other words, business as usual with more of the same?

It will also work with local communities, form business partnerships and provide a dynamic educational facility for children and the public. It obviously failed to work with the local Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre which is an educational facility for children and the public, reaching out to over 50,000 New Zealanders each year.

More than half the $14 million required for capital works, including the proposed interpretive centre, and for an endowment fund to support teaching, research and education has been raised. The Edith Winstone Blackwell Trust has gifted $4.5 million for the interpretive centre and the University has budgeted $3 million under its funding programme. Has the Edith Winstone Blackwell Trust been informed of Seafriends who have operated for 16 years, doing what the University only talks about?

"If solutions are to be found to the pressing problems of sustainability, energy production and food supply, New Zealand needs the underpinning science and trained students with the right skills. The University of Auckland is proud to take up the challenge and provide the outstanding graduates this task will require," says Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon. However, New Zealand's most pressing problem is that of degradation of coastal waters, resulting in the collapse of fisheries. After 18 years of prodding the University to begin studying this problem, nothing has been done. On the other hand, Seafriends has discovered how degradation works (in 2005), which is again ignored by people who call themselves scientists, doing nothing about sustainability.

"In doing so, the University commits to working co-operatively with international agencies, foundations, trusts, other science agencies, Maori and the community, to provide the best possible education for our young people." Does this mean they are presently NOT working with those groups, while NOT providing the best possible education for young people?

"Given our location in the South Pacific, New Zealand and The University of Auckland have a leadership role to play in marine research and education, and tackling issues such as sustainability, energy production and food supply." It is one thing to wish to play a leadership role and another thing to actually perform that role. It all depends on leadership from heads of departments (now very weak), quality and depth of work (leaves to be desired), and available funding (now static). However, most of the work is for producing MSc and PhD qualifications and is consequently of low value to society. Sustainability? While ignoring degradation? Energy production? Are we dreaming here?

"The SPCMS will enable world-class scholars to study the marine environment, develop the underlying scientific knowledge required for the management of our marine environment into the future, and educate our future leaders," says Professor John Montgomery, Director of the Leigh Marine Laboratory. Aren't they doing this already? We should be worried.

"The University is keen to partner with other universities to develop a national strategy for tertiary sector marine science. The inclusion of South Pacific in the name recognises the importance of marine issues in the wider Oceania area, and Aucklandís unique position in the South West Pacific," says Chris Mace, Chair of the SPCMS Strategy Group. Is a greater lab really required for this? By hogging the epiteth South Pacific, the University is in effect snubbing other Pacific universities and marine centres. Not nice.

Approximately 350,000 people visit the marine reserve each year. The planned Edith Winstone Blackwell Interpretive Centre will provide a facility for these visitors and also outreach programmes for primary and secondary school students, including local and Maori educational programmes. What's wrong with an extension of Seafriends which would cost much less and achieve much more? It will be run by people who have been doing this for 16 years on a shoe-string, and it will benefit conservation of our seas.

The Interpretive Centre will be part of a broad upgrade of the marine science complex at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, the plans for which are currently going through a resource consent process. The problem is exactly this, that the two plans are intertwined, as if the one depends on the other, but this is not so. It appears that the outreach centre is used as a false flag to obtain the SPCMS and that the public and the funders are deceived in this respect. The outreach centre is to provide kudos and local support, while expected to raise the flagging profile of the Marine Laboratory. It is further obscene to spend over $14 million on a landscape-defiling complex while leaving the infrastructure of Leigh bereft of funds. For instance, accommodation for scientists and students should be located in Leigh, not at the edge of the marine reserve. 

The South Pacific Centre for Marine Science at Leigh (SPCMS) is a leader in the creation of a national strategy for marine science . . How can a newly created entity that does not even have a home, be a leader in the creation of a national strategy... there is none such strategy. Try the various search engines. In other publications we notice the wish to take part in fisheries science which is now dominated by other institutions.

with an emphasis on showing young New Zealanders the importance and beauty of a healthy ocean. We have a problem here as most if not all leaders of the Marine Laboratory from 1962 till today, have never had a long-term personal experience with the sea, borne out by the fact that they do not dive. Students even while diving, do not have sufficient experience either. Hence the non-sequitur (does not follow) of 'showing the beauty of a healthy ocean', whereas none of our coastal seas are healthy and certainly not the area around Leigh. Or have the scientists not noticed yet?

By supporting .... you will promote the responsible stewardship of New Zealand's marine environment  .. don't expect responsible stewardship of the sea by scientists, as they have persistently refused to look into the biggest environmental problem of NZ, that of marine degradation. They did not notice the death of the kelp forest in 1993, the disappearance of crayfish in 1998 and the list goes on. They are hushing up the drastic decline of fish at Goat Island between 1978 and 1988, the collapse of unfished fish stocks at the Poor Knights and much more.

In return we will help you discover the wonders of our exciting underwater world . . . Just click on the free Seafriends web site. It has already been done, with thousands of photos and a CD, and now also unique summer exhibitions for visitors.

ever since 1962 the Leigh Marine Laboratory has been a hub of marine research in New Zealand. Yes, a small hub next to NIWA and half a dozen universities.

fish populations [in the marine reserve] have recovered.... Oops, a study by Cole & Ayling & Creese (1990) shows a massive decline of fish before 1990. Yet this study has been hushed up. In 1993 the whole kelp forest disappeared. In 1998 the crayfish disappeared (5 out of every 6). Many more species have disappeared or become very rare. Whole areas have lost their populations of mussels, other shellfish, sea urchins and seastars. Yet scientists haven't noticed, living in their own world of make-believe. An independent information centre like Seafriends is needed to tell the truth.

A small country's dilemma
Small countries have the problem that they do not have enough people to support the kind of variety found in larger countries. One such item is schooling in general and universities in particular. To staff universities, one needs top caliber 'brainy' people who at the same time are able to work independently, driven by curiosity while restrained by doubt. Such people are rare.
Thus the smallest of countries won't be able to staff a quality university at all, and New Zealand is no exception. One would have thought that Government would have restricted the number of universities while encouraging extensive co-operation between them, but exactly the opposite has happened. Universities are now in fierce competition with each other; there are far too many; there are too many departments; too many professors; classes far too small and the cost is far too high. No surprise then that academic education in New Zealand is at an all-time low (with perhaps a few exceptions?).

People and what you can do
You can make a difference to the present situation and the disastrous course the University of Auckland has chosen. Make your opinion known to the following people:

List of people and their contact addresses
University of Auckland, Priv Bag 92019, Auckland 1142
   Stuart N McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor
   Chris Mace, Chair of the SPCMS Steering Committee
   John Montgomery, Head Of Department marine science and head of the Leigh Marine Laboratory

Leigh Marine Laboratory of the University of Auckland; 160 Goat Island Rd; Leigh; RD5 Warkworth
   John Montgomery, Head Of Department marine science and head of the Leigh Marine Laboratory

University of Auckland Foundation Incorporated;  Priv Bag 92019, Auckland 1142
   Hugh Fletcher Chancellor
   Prof S N McCutcheon Vice-Chancellor

Rodney District Council, the Mayor Mrs Penny Webster, Priv Bag 500, Orewa

The Press
  The Aucklander, letters to the editor, P O BOX 32, Auckland

What's new?
20090114 - Started to place this chapter on the net.

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