Local Government forces closure of Seafriends marine education centre

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16 Nov 2005. PRESS RELEASE
Local Government closes Marine Education Centre
The world-acclaimed SEAFRIENDS Marine Conservation and Education Centre in Leigh, New Zealand, is forced to close because subdivision is disallowed by the Rodney District Council.
"We have spent all our savings and earnings to the tune of $2 million to save the sea and bring awareness of its plight to young and old," says owner Dr Floor Anthoni. "With a crippling debt we are facing bankruptcy unlesss we can sell a small part of our 10 ha holding. This is where the Public can help without it costing a cent."

But Rodney District Council mayor John Law and his planner Lloyd Barton, think otherwise: "The Council was concerned with the visual impact of a further dwelling and associated buildings within the sensitive coastal area," he writes in his letter of 7 November. And this in spite of the fact that subdivision in this area is allowed for setting aside a 2ha plot of native bush, and also an ever growing university complex, located at the very edge of the sea.

"What is the problem with setting aside a conservation and education centre instead," asks Dr Anthoni. "it is so ironical that the blind execution of the Resource Management Act kills an institution which is fighting hard to save the sea. These people (RDC) plan arbitrary zonings with arbitrary boundaries and arbitrary rules that are interpreted arbitrarily, and they think that all this is somehow REAL. And then they are happy to be tied with their hands behind their backs because of such rules. Madness has indeed replaced Common Sense"

The Seafriends centre in Leigh is visited each year by some 3000 school children for an educational day of immersion in matters of the sea. They go snorkelling in the marine reserve, view creatures on the rocky shore, receive an inspiring lecture and make discoveries in the ecosystem aquariums. Schools arrive from as far afield as Kaitaia and Taranaki and from overseas.

"Fifteen years of hard work have brought all this together," says Maria Anthoni, "My husband has worked so hard on the many educational resources and this year he has discovered how degradation in the sea really works."

Scientists are still reeling under the scientific discoveries made by Dr Anthoni in recent years as something big and important has been overlooked, as well as a method to measure it.

"With hindsight it is all very simple," he explains, "The sea does not only feed but it also kills. In the planktonic ecosystem the decomposers play an indispensable role, but these are also the nasties (bacteria, fungi and viruses) that cause infection and disease. And when the sea becomes over-fed (eutrophic), these bacteria take over. Stealing the solar energy, they change the sea from a feeder to a killer. It is now even affecting our coastal fisheries. You cannot have healthy fish stocks in sick seas."

Dr Anthoni also invented a new scientific technique to measure the activity of these decomposers and their density, in other words, the health of the sea, lakes and rivers. "The method is very exciting because it costs less than $1000, is completely portable and can be done by secondary school children," he says. "The public now has a tool to keep a finger on the pulse of the environment and everyone can join in. It is so sad to lose Seafriends when my mission is only half done, that of saving our seas."

For more information, visit the Seafriends web site www.seafriends.org.nz.

Seafriends Facts Sheet: here is a list of facts about Seafriends:
  • Introduction, what is Seafriends doing?In one sentence, SF is about saving the sea and accumulating the knowledge needed. The sea and what it needs are very poorly understood and this forms a major obstacle to saving it. The public tends to do the wrong things.
    • Creating awareness of our natural heritage, bringing the sea to the surface. 
      • Education, experience at first hand, snorkelling, lectures, field studies. Maximum group size: 40 children andparents.
      • Snorkel equipment hire to help people discover the marine reserve. Equipment for large groups.
      • Marine aquariums, self-contained ecosystem showing the habitats around Leigh. 8 habitats, over 100 species. 
      • Book library to gather knowledge, 800 books. Open to the public. Books can be hired.
      • Photo library shows NZ sea, 3000 photos available as high resolution digital images.
      • Web site to disseminate knowledge. Over 2500 printed pages. 5000 drawings and photos. 1.3 million visitors/year. Free access. Each page printable. Hard science made easy to understand. Accelerated learning. www.seafriends.org.nz 
      • Compact Disc: every year a new SF CD is published with the complete web site and thousands of screen-sized photos.
    • Research to find out why the sea is degrading and how this works. Monitoring and documenting progress.
      • Learning by observing. Ecology, biology, facts.
      • Conducting observations and monitoring of the sea and marine reserves. 
      • Publication on the Seafriends website. Scientific challenges. The sea does not work the way we think.
    • Photography: to bring the sea to the surface and document the degradation in the sea  and on land
  • Organisation: Seafriends consists of three entities:
    • Seafriends Corporation: a not-for-profit business that runs the commercial activities such as the education centre. All profit is ploughed back into the organisation.
    • Seafriends Foundation: a registered charitable trust which manages donations and public funds.
    • Seafriends Society: an organisation for individual and community participation and action. (not created yet)
  • Purpose: Seafriends is unique and important. Begun in 1990, opened in 1992. Without it, the public would be worse off for the lack of information necessary to save the seas for our children. 
    • Unique in NZ and raising NZ's profile in the world. Most visitors (90%) to the SF website are from overseas.
    • Built from private initiative. Not a single public dollar was spent. But public support is now needed.
    • Has the courage and independence to tell the truth and to dispel unfounded myths and fallacies. Who else can do this? 
    • Exposes how the easily the Government is misled and because of this also the public. We can't afford to do things wrong.
  • Progress: Seafriends has made scientific progress
    • We were the first to document and report that our seas are sick, a rapidly worsening ill health that affects all sea creatures - degradation. (1987) Degradation is the loss of both quantity and quality of life (biodensity and biodiversity).
    • We discovered that marine reserves don't meet their objectives (saving biodiversity) where environmental degradation reigns. (1992) Obviously closing an area to fishing does not cure the environmental degradation occurring there. It does not improve the quality of the water.
    • On our website we brought all knowledge together to understand this, from soil and erosion to how mud and plankton blooms cause the death of organisms, and how degradation works. (completed in 2005). Only by saving the land can we save the sea
    • In 1993 we researched the extent of the sudden kelpbed death and discovered it also happened elsewhere in 1992. We discovered that barren zones are created by storms, not by sea urchins who only maintain these. We followed and documented subsequent events.
    • We vehemently dispute the Marine Lab's hypothesis that habitat changes in the marine reserve are caused by protection (big snapper eating sea urchins, thus the kelp rebounding). They are caused by degradation, a factor not taken into account by scientists. All areas (also unprotected ones) most affected by the kelpbed death of 1993 showed identical kelp invasion.
    • In 1998 we observed that Crayfish had left the marine reserve (85%), long before scientists became aware, even though this was reported to them three times.
    • In 2003 we discovered that the planktonic bacteria had been overlooked as a decisive influence in the sea. It is the missing ecological factor without which many paradoxes remain unexplained. We formulated the Plankton Balance hypothesis.
    • In 2005 we made profound discoveries that shake the foundation of marine science. We discovered how degradation works, which is essential for finding effective remedies to its ill effects. 
      • We found a new scientific method to measure the health of the sea, the Dark Decay Assay (DDA). It confirmed the Plankton Balance hypothesis and gave it further substance.
      • We found a basic law affecting all life on Earth, that productivity and density of life depends on the availability of hydrogen ions.
      • We found that decomposition in the sea cannot complete without additional energy. It is the cause of a large biomass of a mysterious organic substance we called slush. We formulated the Slush Hypothesis to explain higher than expected productivity in the sea. Slush may well embody the highest biomass on Earth, larger than all life combined.
      • We have made the first maps of the sea showing the health or ill-health of the sea.
      • We can now objectively rate how sick lakes are.
    • The sea is sick and worsening: the sea has suddenly become sick and is worsening rapidly. 
      • All species are affected, and in the end also humans. 
      • The threat from degradation is worse than that of fishing. It reduces the fish stocks by killing their larvae. 
      • People blame what is visible: fishing, mud and poisonous plankton blooms but the real threat comes from the invisible bacteria in the water, which are a normal and necessary component.
    • Only by saving the land can we save the sea: the main threat to the sea comes from the land (land-based pollution). From inadequate and risky farming. From animal wastes and fertilisers. From inadequate care of marginal lands. From urban development. From human sewage. On land is where we need to act.
  • Current status: Seafriends needs support: the health of the sea concerns us all. 
    • It cannot be left to a small number of people. The problems are large, the sea enormous, requiring substantial support. The work needs to be continued. We cannot stop saving the seas now. Much more needs to be done. 
    • The Anthoni family has funded Seafriends by as much as $2 million from savings, earnings and unpaid time, not including the value of the property. 
    • Substantive financial help is critical for progress and outcomes.
    • One stop learning: the Seafriends web site has succeeded in bringing all necessary science together: to understand the interactions between oceans, soil, erosion, degradation, conservation, biodiversity and much more. A coherent and harmonious whole which also challenges the mind. We're half-way there and much more needs to be done.
  • Immedate objective: immediate cash injection of over 0.5 million dollar critically needed. Permission to subdivide would deliver this without it costing the public. Rodney District Council's (RDC) choice is now: subdivide and Seafriends lives; no subdivision and Seafriends dies. SF has been held in limbo for far to long, affecting its viability. Urgent positive action is essential.
Contact: Dr J Floor Anthoni, 09 473 5433  <floor@seafriends.org.nz>
Mrs Maria Anthoni, 09 4226212  <maria@seafriends.org.nz>
Seafriends Marine Conservation & Education Centre, 7 Goat Island Rd, Leigh RD5, Northland. Fx 094226245

Bringing a sea of consciousness to education
an article for the Term 4 2005 issue of Principals Today
by Angela O Perez
Reproduced by permission of A-MARK Publishing www.academy.net.nz.
The Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre is aimed at increasing the knowledge of school kids and the public about the problems of the sea, and producing solutions for these ecosystems.

Despite the fact that three quarters of the world’s surface is covered by sea, Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre is trying to turn the tide of Sea education in New Zealand. Established in 1990, it is an organisation devoted to increasing the knowledge and attitudes towards the sea and is committed to increasing awareness and knowledge of it in society and the government.

“Sea knowledge should be more important than learning about any of the countries on the earth” says founder of Seafriends, Dr Floor Anthoni. Having dedicated the last 20 years of his life to saving the seas, he has tried to continually research and provide information to the public regarding what really is the state of the sea. With information as the cornerstones of his website and message, the truth is that change in government policy and even public opinion are largely weighed against him. New research and information in the field has even brought in his eyes a contrast to what is dictated as proper sea treatment by the government and international authorities.

“The Sea in New Zealand was sick and getting sicker much quicker than anyone expected.  Being a diver I noticed this much earlier than many others.” Experiencing the financial crash of the late 80’s, he was also inspired to do something with a larger meaning and decided to continue in the direction of his passion, researching and looking after the sea. So came the idea of setting up Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre, where children could learn and be educated about the damage being done to the sea and changes necessary to improve this ecosystem. Today he says he is proud to dedicate his life entirely to saving the sea.

But while the Seafriends Centre has been established to encourage education and change in our approach to the sea, Mr Anthoni is fully aware that reaching significant numbers of schools and school children is one of the most challenging aspects of running the centre. Attracting roughly 3000 students per year and there being roughly 300,000 students in New Zealand, he worries that even numerically odds are stacked against him. Today he says the greatest interest in his website comes from United States secondary schools, with only a small 5 percent of interest for the centre coming from New Zealand.

The Seafriends website however is a highly unique resource that is highly ranked among websites. Holding up to 5000 images and almost 3000 pages of information and resources visited by over one million visitors this year, kids are likely to encounter information that is very recent and full of the latest research. “Teachings of this website provide comprehensive and reliable information.” He even believes some information provided by government agencies are unreliable and says people need to be properly informed to digest this information.  But he says even if there were significant increases in the knowledge and awareness about the problems of the sea, producing solutions for these ecosystems will not be an easy matter.

independent answers will unlock problems of the sea

Even now, with his Seafriends website and Marine Conservation and Education Centre he sees no real solution to the problems of the sea. But he strongly believes educating the public and future generations is one of the most important responses to the problems faced. “We need smart children to solve some of these problems…we have this image that New Zealand is clean and green, but the fact is that we are not, we have some of the most polluted waters in the world.” He adds that New Zealand is different from Australia and the US and needs to find its own independent answers to its problems of the sea. “We can’t go copying the same mistakes of other countries; we need to find our own solutions to our own problems.”

Regarding the establishment of the Seafriends Marine Centre, he says it is unique. “It is in fact such a new idea that there is nothing like it in the world, you can look on the internet, but you won’t find it.” Speaking about the centre, he says one of the things that makes the centre different is its proximity to a body of clear water. The centre, particularly aimed at school kids, is open to the public and has an aquarium, library, restaurant and café and also a dive hire centre. He says there aren’t many places in the world where you have clear water next to a big city. Or clear water next to a population of people. “Now we still have Leigh (the location of the centre) and it is still the clearest place near Auckland.”

Talking to Mr Anthoni it becomes fully apparent the passion and dedication that he has for the sea, came as a response to the damage that he noticed back in the late 80’s. Back then he says environmental awareness and issues were just beginning to rise to public awareness and seeing the damage first hand, as an experienced diver, he was shocked by people’s obliviousness to it. “I was seeing the sea was deteriorating so quickly and at the same time nobody was noticing. That was very, very frightening.” Comparing his concern for the sea like one a mother has for their child, you can see his own sense of custodianship to the sea is very strong. “If you imagine it like having a kid and you see the child sick and deteriorating, and others can’t see it , what would you do in that situation?” This inspired him to change his whole direction in life and try to change the degradation happening. Today this interest has led him to gaining an extensive knowledge about the sea, with few people having as much background and scientific knowledge about the sea.

Regarding the public’s knowledge about the sea, he says while it has improved over the last decade, there are many perceptions that need to change. “Our understanding of the sea (through research) has increased far, far faster, but the knowledge that people have has lagging behind, and the fact the sea is being threatened, and the knowledge about this has stayed very, very far behind.” This is despite the fact he says, that New Zealand is the fourth largest sea nation in the world, just by volume alone. Conservation groups he says need to improve their knowledge so they’re all working in the interest of New Zealand waters.

Education to turn tides of pollution

Educating about the sea
But trying to clarify what the solutions are to the complex problems of the seas, he says we need to look at how we affect the sea, and how we can stop damaging it. Starting with the two areas where all problems start for the sea, the land, and what we take from the sea, Mr Anthoni says we need to place the responsibility of the sea back into the hands of those that use it.  “So that means don’t take it out of their hands, but place it into their hands. So fisherman they will be the best conservationists once the sea is put into their hands, likewise farmers, who then know what their actions do to the sea will also see they can manage their farms in a different way.” He says that only through having this knowledge and it being widely acknowledged and accepted, will change happen.

But teaching kids is a tricky thing when it comes to a centre, and regarding this Mr Anthoni knows what kids will remember. “Anything that you teach them will be forgotten- the one thing they will never forget is passion. It’s the wow and the passion, amazement, that’s what children never forget, and I ask all my people that work for me the only thing they should take home is that you are mad and passionate about the sea, and anything we can teach them at school like that, is probably where we should go.”

So while researching the issues of the sea and making more effective channels for further education in the community and children, Mr Anthoni says the biggest message that children can learn is that they are, and New Zealand is a unique place in the world. “I think the kids should know that we are unique and our seas are unique and therefore our solutions are unique, and they should understand that we have to change our ways in order to save something they may never set foot in.”

providing clarity and information in a sea of confusion

Not being politically motivated, he sees his scholarly work as an essential base for future change. “Creating political action is difficult, but I am consoling myself that what I’ve done is what I needed to do, to feel that my work is complete and the political side can be done by many, whereas the scholarly side cannot be done by many, and what you find on the Seafriends website is a collection of information that you will not find anywhere else.” Saying it’s a ‘one-stop-shop’ website able to provide resources for school children and graduates alike, Mr Anthoni works hard at providing clarity and information through the Marine centre and website in a sea of confusion. While helping to turn the tide of pollution and improve the approach to what is three quarters of this earth’s surface.

Any enquiries about Seafriends Marine Conservation and Education Centre please contact (09) 422 6212. www.seafriends.org.nz.

Goat Island beach and channel
f992324: A helicopter view of the most visited spot of the Goat Island marine reserve, with Little Barrier Island on the horizon. Left of the Channel, Goat Island. In the foreground the famous Echinoderm Flats and above it the sprawling university complex.
Children see blue maomao close by
f022119: children experience a variety of fish like blue maomao, trevally and snapper within touching distance. It changes their minds that the fish in the sea are not just food but can also be friends.

a class receiving snorkel instruction
f214323: a class of school children receiving snorkel instruction before going in the water. They are all dressed in fulll wetsuits to protect them from cold and jelly stings, while also providing ample flotation. It is an entirely safe experience.
some of the larger fishes
f030237: even with low visibility, large fish come nearby, such as parore, blue cod and snapper.

A-MARK Publishing www.academy.net.nz. Academy publishing provides a group of business to business newspapers giving you a targeted audience, wide reach, relevant readers and cost effective advertising.