Launch of The Breaking Wave oceans report


Firstly I would like to acknowledge Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and the iwi that comprise the collective - Te Atiawa, Ngāti Tama, Taranaki, Ngāti Ruanui, and other iwi from the Taranaki area.

Thank you to the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) for the invitation to speak today and the opportunity to launch ‘The Breaking Wave’.

The Breaking Wave is a thought-provoking report which takes a first principles look at the future of the oceans management system in New Zealand, laying the groundwork for a national conversation.

I would like to thank EDS for the contributions they continue to make towards environmental policy.

EDS has a solid track record of being visionary and pushing the envelope to broaden horizons while recognising that need to be realistic and practical.

Its Oceans Reform Project represents a significant body of work and brings together some great minds. I would like to thank Greg Severinsen, Raewyn Peart, Bella Rollinson, Tracy Turner, and Phoebe Parson for their efforts on this report.

The ocean environment globally

The ocean covers over 70% of the planet, supplying half its oxygen. It is the Earth’s life support system. Some have even questioned why we call it planet Earth when it is clearly planet Ocean.

The ocean is vast and diverse. At its deepest, it’s over 10,000 metres deep – deeper than the tallest mountain.

The world’s oceans play a significant role in supporting people and our way of life. But they’re also under pressure.

Climate change is driving increases in sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, and ultraviolet radiation.

Coastal ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, and coral reefs are showing declines globally, threatening the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of the people that rely on them.

The volume of oceanic waste plastic has increased tenfold since 1980.

But despite the pressures on our oceans and its fundamental importance to humans, over 90% of marine species globally have not even been officially described. We have huge information gaps in the ocean.

Now is a unique time for oceans on the world stage. As well as the negotiations to set new global biodiversity targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, there are ongoing negotiations for a new agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

In addition to this, New Zealand has joined other countries in stating support for coordinated global action to combat marine plastic pollution through a new global agreement.

The ocean environment New Zealand

Globally, we are unique. New Zealand is in the middle of the so-called “water hemisphere”. If you hold a globe in your hands and move it around so you can see mostly sea, New Zealand is in the middle.

It’s therefore not a surprise that the ocean environment is central to our identity. Most of us live near the coast. Many earn a living from it or use it as a place to recharge ourselves. It has immense cultural value for tangata whenua and has provided kaimoana and enjoyment for as long as people have lived here.

The ocean makes a significant contribution to New Zealand’s prosperity. New Zealand’s ports move exports and imports worth more than $75 billion annually. Shipping, fisheries, and aquaculture, and oil and gas, all make significant contributions to the marine economy.

Our place in the world, the length and complexity of our coastline, the sheer size of our exclusive economic zone and the diversity of marine habitats, mean New Zealand is a global hotspot for marine biodiversity.

New Zealand is a global centre of seabird diversity with about 145 of the world’s 346 seabird species using New Zealand waters and 95 species breeding here. New Zealand has more endemic breeding species than any other country in the world.

An estimated 30 percent of New Zealand’s biodiversity is found at sea. Of the 12,820 described marine species, over half are only found here. But it’s been estimated that over 50,000 marine species remain to be described.

Key challenges

Our oceans provide us with so much – but this means our wide range of values and interests in the marine environment can compete against each other.

As a result, we know that our oceans – which are home to many taonga species – are under pressure.  In fact, of the marine species that have been assessed for their conservation status, over 30% are threatened or at risk.

The global pressures I mentioned earlier, such as climate change, are relevant here in New Zealand.

Marine heatwaves are becoming more common here and coastal waters have been warming. In the long term, climate change could alter entire ecosystems.

There are some challenges to face in New Zealand’s fisheries management. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor’s recent report on commercial fishing has usefully highlighted these challenges, but also some opportunities for addressing them.

In some coastal areas, the marine environment is facing growing pressures from habitat degradation and loss, sedimentation and pollution. The amount of sediment entering the ocean from rivers has increased over decades, especially in the North Island. New Zealand fish have been found to be ingesting microplastics, and plastic pollution generally remains a risk to a range of marine species such as seabirds and marine mammals.

There are concerns about marine species becoming ecologically extinct in some areas.

There is an urgency to address the drivers of marine biodiversity decline and to ensure that we maintain and restore our connections to the moana.

Diverse values

Balancing the wide range of values and interests in the marine environment means that people making decisions about marine management must consider difficult trade-offs and costs.

Our decision making and economic systems often fail to account for the value of nature – both in terms of money and other benefits, such as the physical, cultural or social wellbeing of people. If the full value of biodiversity and mātauranga Māori are not recognised or reflected in decisions about the marine environment, biodiversity is more likely to be negatively impacted.

Finding ways to work together and achieve win-wins for biodiversity and prosperity will mean that protecting and restoring biodiversity doesn’t need to come at a cost to wellbeing and sustainable livelihoods.

Complex legislative environment

New Zealand’s marine management system is made up of many different laws and policies which provide a broad range of tools for managing activities and for protecting the marine environment.

The ocean is governed by the Resource Management Act, the Fisheries Act, conservation legislation and a host of other interconnected mechanisms. Existing protection tools alone include marine reserves, marine mammal sanctuaries, fisheries restrictions and catch limits, measures to recognise customary rights and interests such as mātaitai reserves, restrictions under Coastal and District Plans, consenting and permitting regimes, and bans on harmful products (e.g. microbeads).

Voluntary action by tangata whenua and communities (such as rāhui) also make significant contributions to the protection of the marine environment.

The Breaking Wave lifts our gaze to the horizon to ask, ‘is the system working well, and can we manage the ocean better?’. It is timely to begin a discussion around this question.

Embarking on a road to reform

This Government is driving significant reform across the natural resources sector which will have large positive impacts on the marine environment. This includes an ambitious agenda of resource management reform, conservation law reform, the implementation plan for Te Mana o te Taiao – Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, and the oceans and fisheries work programme.

Conservation law reform

Within conservation law reform, the review of the Wildlife Act 1953 will include an exploration of the intersections and interactions with marine management.

Conservation law is a complex web of 24 acts, developed over a span of 85 years, largely on an ad hoc basis. This includes ineffective and outdated marine protection legislation.

Thinking about conservation and the environment has shifted significantly since conservation legislation was drafted.

Conservation legislation does not contain the tools we need to respond to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Nor does it reflect our evolving understanding of Treaty principles.

Marine protection is an important part of ensuring the long-term health and resilience of ocean and coastal ecosystems. Te Mana o te Taiao includes the goal of developing an effective network of marine protected areas and other tools by 2035. However, current legislation and processes for establishing marine reserves are outdated and not fit-for-purpose to protect marine biodiversity.

We are looking at options for updating marine protected areas legislation to drive more effective marine protection around the country.

Resource management reform

My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, is leading a comprehensive reform of the resource management system.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has not delivered on its desired environmental or development outcomes nor have RMA decisions consistently given effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti).

The new resource management system will comprise three new pieces of legislation to replace the Resource Management Act (1991) (RMA) the:

  • Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), as the main replacement for the RMA, to protect and restore the environment while better enabling development;
  • Strategic Planning Act (SPA), requiring the development of long-term regional spatial strategies to help coordinate and integrate decisions made under relevant legislation; and
  • Climate Adaptation Act (CAA), to address complex issues associated with managed retreat.

The objectives of the reform are to:

  • protect and restore the environment and its capacity to provide for the wellbeing of present and future generations;
  • better enable development within natural environmental limits;
  • give proper recognition to the principles of Te Tiriti of Waitangi and provide greater recognition of te ao Māori including mātauranga Māori;
  • better prepare for adapting to climate change and risks from natural hazards, and better mitigate emissions contributing to climate change; and
  • improve system efficiency and effectiveness, and reduce complexity while retaining appropriate local democratic input.

Te Mana o te Taiao implementation plan

In April this year I released the implementation plan for Te Mana o te Taiao - Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (ANZBS). It provides guidance on where to concentrate our efforts to bring about transformational change as we work towards a more holistic, integrated approach to managing our oceans.

This includes a goal to protect and restore marine and coastal ecosystems to a ‘healthy functioning’ state and connect them to indigenous land, wetland, and freshwater ecosystems.

This is reflected in the Government’s announcement of new funding in Budget 2022, including $14m for the implementation of marine protection and localised management actions; and $7m for reducing extinction risk for flagship marine species

Oceans and Fisheries work programme

I continue to work closely with the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries to deliver the oceans and fisheries work programme. This is a package of critical initiatives to drive marine protection and a sustainable blue economy.

Our vision is to “Ensure the long-term health and resilience of ocean and coastal ecosystems, including the role of fisheries.” It’s a statement of our collective responsibility for the stewardship of healthy and productive oceans. It is focused on ecosystem health because that’s the wider context we need to operate in. Very simply, healthy fisheries rely on healthy ecosystems.

Our work programme includes some really significant marine-related initiatives including new marine protection.

Starting at the top of the country is the new Te Pēiwhairangi (Bay of Islands) Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

In November last year I established this sanctuary to not only reverse the decline in the numbers of bottlenose dolphins in the area but better protect visiting orcas and fur seals as well.

Another significant initiative is the implementation of Revitalising the Gulf: Government response to the Sea Change plan which we launched in June 2021.

The Hauraki Gulf is a taonga. It’s treasured for its natural environment, cultural significance, the kaimoana and jobs it provides, and as a place for recreation for generations of Aucklanders.

We’ve known for some time that the health of the Gulf is in decline. Despite significant efforts to manage the pressures on the Gulf, successive reports produced on behalf of the Hauraki Gulf Forum have highlighted that the decline continues and more needs to be done.

‘Revitalising the Gulf’ is our plan of action. It sets out an ecosystem-based approach to management including marine conservation and fisheries management actions. We are creating new marine protection zones that will increase marine protection in the region threefold, to about 18 percent. We are also developing New Zealand’s first area-based fisheries plan, which will deliver wider seabed habitat protection by restricting trawling and other fishing methods. This is in addition to wider species protection and habitat restoration actions.

Further south, we are working to deliver the South East Marine protection proposals on the South Island coast.

The proposed network is made up of 6 marine reserves, 5 Type 2 marine protected areas, and 1 kelp protection area, covering a total of 1,267 kilometres squared.

Public consultation has been completed and final decisions will be made on the proposed new marine protection areas.

How does this work address the challenges?

The Government’s agenda is big, and is focused on driving change. We want to start fixing many of the challenges outlined in The Breaking Wave now – including the lack of strong environmental limits, inconsistent norms, fragmentation and lack of stewardship.

A huge driver of conservation law reform is the fact that conservation law is outdated and inconsistent with current norms.

The resource management reform includes developing environmental targets and limits for the marine system that will guide planning and a regional and district levels.  The Regional Spatial Strategies that are developed under the Strategic Planning Act will provide planning maps that will outline where certain activities and uses should locate such as ports, aquaculture, infrastructure, where important areas for biodiversity are located and so forth.

This provides a strategic and integrated approach and guides the development of the Natural and Built Environment Plans.

Despite this significant body of work, I acknowledge there will still be more to do, which is why I look forward to hearing the views of tangata whenua and stakeholders, and the public conversation that results from the release of this report.

I would like to thank EDS again for the thinking and work that has gone into producing this report. Your research does a good job of capturing dynamic tensions in the marine environment and builds a strong foundation for all of us to consider these issues in the future.

And thank you again, for the opportunity to speak today. The Breaking Wave will be a useful contribution to discussions about oceans policy, and is timely as we progress the Oceans and Fisheries work programme along with wider government system changes such as resource management and conservation law reform.