Kermadec sanctuary a global contribution to ocean protection

  • Nick Smith

The Prime Minister’s announcement today at the United Nations in New York of a new Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is a global contribution by New Zealand towards better protection of the world’s oceans, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“Oceans are the new frontier for environmental protection. They make up 72 per cent of the globe and are home to half of the world’s species, but currently only two per cent is protected. There is increased pressure from over-fishing, mining and pollution, with the populations of fish and seabird species estimated to have halved over the past 40 years. Just as our forebears set aside significant areas of our land like the Tongariro and Fiordland National Parks, we need to protect special areas of our sea like the pristine ocean around the Kermadec Islands,” Dr Smith says. 

“The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully protected areas. It includes the second deepest ocean trench at over 10 kilometres – deeper than Mt Everest is tall – and an arc of 30 underwater volcanoes – the largest anywhere on earth. It is home to six million seabirds of 39 different species, over 150 species of fish, 35 species of whales and dolphins, three species of sea turtles – all endangered –and many other marine species like corals, shellfish and crabs unique to this area.

The new sanctuary will extend out to the 200 nautical mile limit of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), from Raoul Island in the north to L’Esperance Rock in the south – covering a total area of 620,000 square kilometres. All forms of fishing (commercial, recreation and aquaculture) and mining (prospecting, exploration and mining of oil, gas and minerals) will be prohibited. Activities that will be allowed, in accordance with New Zealand’s international obligations, are navigation of ships, overflight by aircraft, marine scientific research and submarine cables for communication.

“This initiative reinforces New Zealand’s leadership in sustainable management of the marine environment. Our fishing Quota Management System is internationally recognised as world’s best practice. Our 2012 EEZ law enables the Environmental Protection Authority to properly regulate activities like minerals exploration and ocean discharges. In June this year we jointly sponsored a resolution at the United Nations to advance ocean protection in the high seas, and we continue to advocate for a Marine Protected Area in the Ross Sea,” Dr Smith says.

“We have made good progress in protecting our territorial sea with 10 new marine reserves created last year in the Sub-Antarctics, Akaroa, Kaikoura and the West Coast, bringing the total to 44. The significance of the new Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is that it is 35 times larger than the combined area of New Zealand’s existing 44 marine reserves, and is the first time an area of the EEZ has been fully protected.

“We will be advancing a new framework for marine protection with an update of the Marine Reserves Act 1971. A discussion paper will be released later this year and legislation planned for 2016. The decision to proceed with the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary ahead of this work was because of the pending decision by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals on a significant seabed prospecting application in the area, and to align New Zealand’s protection measures with international initiatives.

“I acknowledge the advocacy for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary from organisations like the Pew Charitable Trust, WWF New Zealand, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, Ngati Kuri, and Greenpeace, as well as thousands of individual New Zealanders. The Government will be introducing legislation to Parliament to enact the new Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary with the intention to have it in place by 1 October 2016.

“This new sanctuary is part of the National-led Government’s ‘Bluegreen’ approach of balancing environmental protection with economic development. New Zealand needs to use its vast ocean resources for jobs and exports with industries like fishing, aquaculture, minerals and energy, but we also need to set aside special areas where nature comes first and marine life is fully protected,” Dr Smith says.

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