What is the Government proposing in the Marine Protected Areas discussion document?

The Government is updating New Zealand’s current marine legislation to provide a mechanism for creating marine protection. However, they propose to only apply the new act to NZ’s territorial waters - which make up just 4% of our oceans. Our Exclusive Economic Zone is much larger but has not been included in their proposal.

The Government has suggested four Marine Protection Area tools: 1) marine reserves, 2) species-specific sanctuaries, 3) seabed reserves, and 4) recreational fishing parks.

Recreational fishing parks are a fisheries management tool, not a marine biodiversity protection tool, and they already exist in the Fisheries Act 1996 (Section 311). Furthermore, none of these tools would apply to the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Why does NZ’s current ocean’s legislation need updating?

The proposed new Marine Protected Areas Act will replace the Marine Reserves Act 1971. The Marine Reserves legislation only allowed for the creation of marine reserves for scientific study, and was limited to the Territorial Sea (out to 12 nautical miles from the coast).

NZ’s international commitments include the Convention on Biodiversity Protection (Rio) which says that we must have a broader view of Marine Protected Areas, including an obligation to protect biodiversity that was not met under the Marine Reserves Act.

Subsequently, DOC and Ministry of Fisheries (now Ministry for Primary Industries) produced the valuable ‘Marine Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan – Classification and Protection Standard (2005 & 2008)’ which has a strong methodology for creating a meaningful representative network of marine protected areas, including imperatives to create fully protected marine reserves.

It is vital to update the legislation to incorporate this standard and to ensure that New Zealand is meeting its international obligations. The new legislation must include extending the ability to create marine protected areas in to our whole marine environment, including the Exclusive Economic Zone (out to 200 nautical miles).

What does Forest & Bird want from this Act?

Forest & Bird wants this act to provide robust processes for creating certainty for marine biodiversity protection.

We want a meaningful and representative network of marine reserves and Marine Protected Areas in the whole of our oceans. To do this, the act needs to apply to our whole oceans, including the Exclusive Economic Zone through three zones: Sub-Tropical, Temperate, and Sub-Antarctic, and not just to our Territorial Sea.

Forest and Bird is calling for the adoption of the ‘Marine Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan – Classification and Protection Standard (2005 & 2008)’ into the new Act.

We are also calling for a robust, independently chaired, fully resourced, forum-process, with balanced stakeholder representation, and with clear and binding time frames.

We want the act to help streamline and simplify all of NZ’s oceans management legislation.

The legislation must include a strong Treaty clause and it is our view that it should include the use of Rahui Tapu, a co-governance model with a 25 year generational review.

What is the Territorial Sea, and what is the Exclusive Economic Zone?

New Zealand’s Territorial Sea is the 22km (12 nautical miles) wide strip of sea around all New Zealand islands, over which we have ‘sovereign control’. That means that our Government makes all the laws and rules about what goes on there, just like on land.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (often referred to as the EEZ) is much bigger. It extends from 12 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles, and is roughly 15 times the size of New Zealand’s land mass. Within the EEZ, we have jurisdiction over the use, preservation and protection of the marine environment.

Some of New Zealand’s most fragile, unique, and complex ecosystems exist in the deep waters of the EEZ, and are profoundly worthy of protection.

Is Nick Smith right that people don’t care as much about the EEZ as they do about our territorial oceans?

New Zealanders care deeply about our environment, whether they have personal experience of it or not. Very few of us will ever see a blue whale up close, but we still care about their survival. We all know that theoretical boundaries on a map don’t mean anything to our ocean life. Fish, whales, dolphins, seabirds often live migratory lives, breeding or feeding in locations that have nothing to do with human political arrangements. New Zealander’s know that our enjoyment of the ocean depends on healthy ocean ecosystems, and that means protecting those ecosystems wherever they exist.

Are NZ’s legal rights different in the EEZ, and so we can’t have Marine Protected Areas there?

While our legal rights do differ as between our territorial sea and the EEZ, there is nothing stopping us from creating Marine Protected Areas in the EEZ. We must exercise our rights in the EEZ with due regard to the rights of other states, such as navigation rights and laying of submarine cables and pipelines. We may need to make provision for those types of activities in any protected areas established in the EEZ. However it is entirely legal to prohibit the most destructive activities, like seabed mining and fishing, within marine protected areas in our EEZ.

If the international laws applying to the EEZ meant that we couldn’t have marine protected areas there, the Government would not be able to establish the recently announced Kermadec Oceans Sanctuary, in which fishing and mining are prohibited.

As signatories to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, New Zealand is also obligated to apply the precautionary principle in our EEZ. This means a lack of scientific evidence can not be used as a reason to delay measures to protect against risks of serious environmental degradation to the oceans.

How does the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary fit in?

New Zealand has three distinct geographical regions of EEZ: Sub-tropical (the Kermadec Region), temperate (around mainland NZ), and sub-Antarctic (around our offshore southern islands).

We applaud the Government for its declaration to create the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which they will do via special legislation, rather than the new Marine Protected Areas act. This makes sense because: the Kermadec Sanctuary will cover the entire region, the region is distinctly isolated, and there is very little conflict with extractive industries.

However, our temperate and sub-Antarctic EEZ should be included within the new Marine Protected Areas Act. Because these zones have multiple users with often competing interests, any Marine Protected Areas in them are likely to be much more contentious. New Zealand will need a robust process for determining which parts of them are best suited to become Marine Protected Areas.