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Auckland Council The Auckland Plan

Te whakamāramatanga o te taiao me ngā taonga tuku iho

Environment and cultural heritage explained

 Conceptual graphic of Auckland landmarks such as the sky tower, rangitoto island, and one tree hill.

The natural environment

​The natural environment is the basis for our existence and prosperity.

It provides the clear air we breathe, the freshwater we drink and the soil to grow food to eat. It supports and enables all aspects of our society, economy and culture.

Our drinking water comes from important ecosystems in the Hunua and Waitākere Ranges regional parks, the Waikato River and underground aquifers.

Economic activities and sectors such as tourism, fisheries, agriculture, horticulture and emerging technologies depend on resources from our natural environment.

Our interactions with the natural environment positively affect our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

The natural environment is inextricably connected to Aucklanders' sense of identity and place. It is a fundamental part of our shared cultural heritage, providing a sense of belonging and connection between our people and communities, and their place.

Māori identity includes relationships to natural systems and landmarks. This strengthens their deep physical and spiritual connections to a place.

Auckland's natural environment not only supports its people, but it is home to many special local ecosystems. It is essential for the survival of both indigenous wildlife and species from across the world.

The Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland region consists of:

  • large native forest-clad ranges, including the Hunua and Waitākere Ranges
  • three significant coastal estuaries/harbours
  • 28 regional parks
  • Tikapa Moana / Te Moananui-a-Toi / Hauraki Gulf Marine Park
  • an abundance of spectacular coastal landscapes, seascapes and beaches
  • numerous freshwater lakes, rivers and streams.

These natural environments create homes and habitats for the survival of  indigenous wildlife and species. As a result, these areas are rich in indigenous biodiversity.

For example, the Kaipara Harbour, the Firth of Thames and the Manukau Harbour provide feeding and breeding grounds for many coastal and migratory birds. These include threatened species such as the wrybill, bar-tailed godwit and New Zealand dotterel.

Some native species are not found outside New Zealand and are under threat of extinction, such as:

  • birds on islands in the Hauraki Gulf
  • kauri in the Waitākere and Hunua forests
  • unique species in our marine and freshwater environment.

Twelve of the 59 different types of New Zealand's indigenous forest ecosystems are found in Auckland. Harataonga Bay, Aotea / Great Barrier Island has Auckland's most diverse forested area.

We have a responsibility to ensure our treasured natural areas and our natural environment are protected and cared for. This maintains their intrinsic values and relational values and ensures they can sustain life for future generations.

Our cultural heritage

The natural environment is part of Auckland's shared cultural heritage.

This term is often used to describe that which we have inherited from past generations and are looking after for the benefit of future generations.

In this plan, the term is used to mean our collective heritage of:

  • air, land, and water
  • biodiversity
  • significant landscapes
  • historic features.

The environment and our shared cultural heritage provide an anchor for the sense of belonging that communities have to their place. These connections are addressed in the Belonging and participation outcome.

The quality of the natural environment means that Auckland has always been a desirable place to be.

It has allowed people to survive and thrive, and it has given rise to other aspects of cultural heritage. This includes storytelling, art, and knowledge, as well as the strong connection to sites, landscapes and structures of significance.

Auckland’s built heritage is, for example, an important connection for some Aucklanders. This link and the specific role of built heritage in shaping our homes, places and spaces is explored in the Homes and places outcome.

The natural environment and our shared cultural heritage have enticed people to invest in Auckland over hundreds of years. They continue to attract migrants and are one reason why so many people call Auckland home.

Environmental protection

Preserving and managing Auckland's diverse natural environments and protecting their quality is a complex and vital responsibility for all Aucklanders.

It is particularly complex in the context of a growing population and the requirements of the commercial, agricultural, and industrial activities that form part of our economy.

Despite past efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, it has been significantly stressed by the impacts of human activity.

It continues to be negatively affected by the:

  • consequences of past decisions
  • inability of infrastructure to cope with current pressures
  • day-to-day lifestyle decisions people make.

We continue to see negative environmental consequences from historic land use and infrastructure decisions such as:

  • combined wastewater and stormwater networks – which now overflow into our harbours
  • the prioritisation of private over public transport, leading to more vehicle emissions and more road run-off
  • developments through natural water courses and within flood plains which cause downstream impacts and require engineered solutions to manage increased water flows
  • ineffective on-site waste water treatment in some areas.

Find out more by reading The Health of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland’s Natural Environment in 2020 (PDF 18.3MB) and State of our Gulf 2020 report (PDF 19.6MB).

Doing better in the future

Real change requires new ways of thinking, leading to new ways of acting and behaving. How we talk about our environment affects our behaviour.

As Auckland grows we must do things differently. We have to achieve better environmental results through our decision-making.

How we value and see our place in the natural environment also needs renewing.

Climate change has now been recognised as an emergency for the Auckland region and will require transformational change in how we live, work and travel.

It will disrupt our economy, business, transport-food-energy systems, natural ecosystems and community wellbeing. As a result, we must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to impacts on our ecosystems, cultural heritage and communities.

Other threats are becoming more common too. Our kauri are under threat from kauri dieback, and our marine environments are under pressure from pest species.

We can also expect more frequent threats to biosecurity as the climate changes.

Activities on land continue to impact our rivers and marine environments, through contaminants like sediment, heavy metals and nutrients.

Waste and litter continue to impact our natural environment as well, particularly our streams and harbours.

We must take action to reduce and mitigate these threats and minimise the impacts on Auckland's people and cultural heritage.

Protecting, restoring and enhancing the natural environment is critical to ensuring our future.

How we track progress

We will track progress against a set of measures.

The measures for this outcome are:

  • observing how people treasure and demonstrate stewardship of natural environment and cultural heritage
  • active management of priority native habitats
  • active management of threatened native plants and animals
  • marine and freshwater quality
  • air quality and greenhouse gas emissions
  • statutory protection of the environment and cultural heritage.

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