Submission to the Ministry for the Environment on the New Marine Protected Areas Act

Pacific Ecologist magazine
9 min readMay 31, 2016

Kay Weir, The Pacific Institute of Resource Management Inc, 12 March 2016

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management Inc (PIRM), based in Wellington was founded in 1984 to promote principles of ecology, equity and justice. We contribute to establishing New Zealand as a strong, independent authority, advocating implementation of a world conservation strategy.We publish Pacific Ecologist to help educate on key sustainability issues.

New Zealand has the fifth largest marine estate of any country in the world but the Government’s proposals for marine protection legislation excludes any protection for our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), covering 95% of that estate between the twelve and the two hundred nautical mile lines. New Zealand protects 6.9 percent of its marine environment through some form of protection but less than 1 percent of the Exclusive Economic Zone is protected through no-take reserves.

The new legislation for marine protected areas should be aligned with Target 14 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which have been agreed by all countries. Target 14 is to conserve by 2020 at least 30 percent of coastal and marine areas. This is in order to take “urgent action to reduce degradation of natural habitat, halt loss of biodiversity, using both spatial management and other appropriate tools, recognising the fluid nature of ecosystems under range-shifting climate change, and consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information,” according to the report by ICSU, ISSC (2015): Review of the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective. Paris: International Council for Science (ICSU).

Detail and clarity lacking

The discussion document does not include policy context. There is no reference to national or international MPA polices or targets. Also, in spite of assertions that a more integrated, planned approach will be adopted, the discussion document does not provide a clear structure for a new MPA planning process.

It’s not clear how the proposed new legislation will relate to Government’s 2005 and 2008 MPA Policies or why they have not been drawn upon to help develop the new proposals. These previous policy documents already provide a MPA planning framework that has been implemented successfully.

Ocean: Earth’s largest ecosystem threatened

Oceans play a critical role in the health of planet Earth. Legislation involving the Ocean ecosystem, the largest ecosystem on Earth, particularly in our era of climate change and Ocean acidification, should seek to restore and conserve the health of the Oceans. We must support the life-giving qualities of our living ocean planet rather than be ruled by short-term values of maximizing financial return and over-exploiting marine life. Professor Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, Canada, says the world’s fisheries can only be sustained into the future if fish resources are allowed to recover and rebuild and if fishing efforts are reduced. If over-fishing continues, it will lead to further depletion of biodiversity and the transformation of marine ecosystems into dead zones.

The Oceans perform many vital functions on which humanity and all life on earth depends, including, mediating the climate, transporting heat around the world, providing moisture, and about 50% of the world’s oxygen. But the oceans are under siege from the activities of human industrial-consumer societies. Ocean warming and Ocean acidification, voracious over-fishing, and pollution of the oceans by persistent organic pollutants, are changing the oceans to such an extent that scientists warn of mass extinctions with unknown ecological and evolutionary consequences (Pacific Ecologist, issue 20 2011). This is extensively documented by eminent scientists around the world and by many UN reports.

The Oceans absorb about a third of the climate changing CO2 emissions from our industrial activity and sadly emissions continue to rise in New Zealand and worldwide. As emissions rise the Oceans warm and transport heat to polar ice sheets. This has serious consequences for marine ecosystems and the ice sheets, the largest being Antarctica, which in turn will seriously affect humanity and many millions of people, including New Zealanders living on coastlines. Our neighbours on Pacific Islands are especially affected by rising sea levels and more violent storms caused by global warming. The Organisation of Small Island States has called for emission reductions that will keep global average temperature increase above pre-industrial levels to less than 1.5°C, a call that has been recognized in the Paris Agreement of December 2015.

CO2 also combines with seawater to form carbonic acid thus making the Oceans more acidic. More acidic Oceans now threaten the great web of life in the Oceans, which contribute to the food security of 4 billion people, according to a 2010 UNEP report. Key links in fish food chains, including pteropods, sea cucumbers and starfish are vulnerable to ocean acidification as are all organisms that make shells and reef systems. Coral reefs already declining through ocean warming, are threatened also by acidification. Many other marine organisms will also be badly affected by acidification with their respiration, oxygen uptake and reproduction being affected.

Acidification challenges facing marine organisms are unprecedented, reports Professor Robert Dunbar of Stanford University, USA, because of the speed at which the changes are occurring. (see his TED talk at Without education about the role of the oceans in climate change, policy changes and marked reduction in warming emissions we will be unable to prevent disastrous consequences, and loss of entire ecosystems in likely. The 2010 UNEP report, Emerging Issues: Environmental Consequences of Ocean Acidification: a threat to Food Security says that if emissions continue to rise at the same rate, by the end of this century an unprecedented 150% increase in ocean acidity will occur, a rate of change not experienced on Earth since dinosaurs became extinct around 65 million years ago.

At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. The agreement is due to enter into force in 2020. New Zealand needs to play its part and submit a credible INDC plan by the next deadline to show its commitment to the Paris Agreement. It’s important therefore that the legislation does not encourage increasing global warming emissions, thus exacerbating already dire ocean problems. Drilling into the seafloor for oil and gas, which the proposed legislation allows for can only cause more emissions and take us further down the road to ecological disaster in damaging marine ecosystems. The resources drilled for will be quickly used, while the damage caused by drilling will be very long term.

A key environmental principle is the precautionary principle, if current or proposed activities risk “high and irreversible damage.” The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010 gave ample example of this with its countless toll on fish and birds. Back in 1953, Ocean visionary Yves Cousteau wrote: “The vegetable life of the Oceans provides a large part of the oxygen we breathe. If the sea is poisoned marine flora will disappear and with it will disappear a large part of the oxygen that is necessary for life on land.” Evidence indicates there is great potential for serious impacts of the sea floor through mining from direct crushing of life forms and coverage with mining discharges. Low oxygen levels in the sea lead to dead zones. Food chains can be disrupted with the demise of plankton species.

Importance of no-take marine reserves

Global efforts to protect the world’s oceans from biodiversity loss and over-fishing are not enough, it’s time to rethink marine conservation, scientists say. Associate Professor Mark Costello of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Auckland and Dr Bill Ballantine, a pioneer of marine reserves in New Zealand, say the definition of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) has become too loose and there’s little certainty about how effective they are.

More no-take marine reserves, where fishing of any kind is prohibited, must be established and existing MPAs which allow some fishing should not be reported by countries unless they can prove biodiversity gain. “We say that if organisations and countries want to report on marine biodiversity protection, then that can only be done robustly from within designated no-take reserves,” Dr Costello says.

Less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans are now designated no-take marine reserves and less than one quarter of coastal countries have even one designated marine reserve. The latest study shows that, since 1950, 9,000 MPAs have been established by 150 countries. Today, just 6 percent of those are no-take areas; in 1950 the figure was 27 percent. By 2013, a total of 94 percent of MPAs allowed some fishing. “MPAs are often multiple-use, with the aim of managing resources rather than preserving and protecting biodiversity in its wild condition,” Dr Ballantine says.

Only areas that are no-take should be regarded as truly protecting ocean ecosystems and if countries can’t accurately report from no-take areas within MPAs, then conservation gain should be assumed to be zero.” Of the existing 9,000 MPAs around the world, protection measures vary. “Any fishing tends to impact marine ecosystems and particularly if regulations for an MPA allow fishing of the largest animals which has a direct impact on population structure and therefore the ecosystem as a whole,” Dr Costello says.

Biodiversity undermined by proposed Act

The majority of our marine environment is not covered by the Act. The entire deep ocean past the territorial sea has been specifically left out. The Government’s failure to include protection mechanisms for the EEZ from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore and the continental shelf is a major step backwards from previous Government proposals, Government election promises and from international norms.

  • In addition, the proposal states that no MPAs can be established where there are petroleum and mineral — mining, prospecting or exploration permits. These cover 11% of our territorial sea, thus further limiting where MPAs can be established.
  • Recreational Fishing Parks (to be established in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds) are not conservation tools. Their primary purpose is sustainable use of fisheries resources not protection of biodiversity. Recreational fishing parks are a fisheries management tool and should remain under the Fisheries Act.
  • In addition, the proposal suggests that where Recreational Fishing Parks are established, there be no marine reserves or other MPAs.

Legislation we support

1. We support the need to reform the Marine Reserves Act 1971, but the primary purpose of the Marine Protected Areas Act must be to protect biodiversity within the whole of New Zealand’s marine environment.

2. We support legislation that can deliver a meaningful network of representative Marine Reserves (fully protected areas) and other Marine Protected Areas. These areas must contain representative examples of the full range of marine communities and ecosystems, and also outstanding, rare, distinctive or important marine habitats.

3. The new legislation should be aligned with Target 14 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all countries, to conserve by 2020, at least 30 percent of New Zealand’s coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and best scientific advice{ ICSU, ISSC (2015): Review of the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective. Paris: International Council for Science (ICSU).} According to best scientific advice, as described by NZ scientists, this should be designated as fully protected no-take reserve areas .Dr Costello, Institute of Marine Science at the University of Auckland and Dr Bill Ballantine say: “Only areas that are no-take should be regarded as truly protecting ocean ecosystems and if countries can’t accurately report from no-take areas within MPAs, then conservation gain should be assumed to be zero.” Marine biodiversity can only be protected robustly within no take reserves. (see above)

4. It’s’ important that Government apply this legislation to the whole of New Zealand’s marine environment including the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Extended Continental Shelf, and not restrict it to only the Territorial Sea.

5. We support the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary and congratulate government on this achievement, but the proposed legislation must also include a formal mechanism for creating other Marine Protected Areas in the EEZ.

6. Areas for consideration for long-term protection of the marine environment should not be constrained by short-term resource use such as oil, gas and mineral extraction, which will be quickly used up by industrial consumer societies, while damage to the environment will be very long term. We need robust legislation that delivers protection within New Zealand’s whole Marine Environment, and certainty for its users.

7. Marine Protected Areas must have the purpose of protecting biodiversity, so we support inclusion of Marine Reserves, species-specific sanctuaries, and Seabed Reserves as tools in this legislation. However, they must be available throughout the whole of New Zealand’s marine environment, not restricted to the Territorial Sea.

8. We do not support including Recreational Fishing Parks in this legislation. Recreational Fishing Parks do not protect or enhance biodiversity. This fisheries management tool is already available in the Fisheries Act and should remain there along with similar tools.

9. We support the inclusion of a strong treaty clause in the Act.

Nature and the marine environment cannot continue to be rampantly exploited and dismantled.

For the very survival of life on Earth, the basic position must now favour protection, preservation and enhancement rather than exploitation and destruction. Consumer societies must be replaced by conserver societies.

We would like to participate in any public hearings on the New Marine Protected Areas Act.