Forest & Bird applies to join Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary court case

Forest & Bird last night announced it has applied to join High Court proceedings over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary to defend the Sanctuary from a fishing industry challenge.

Forest & Bird Marine Advocate Anton van Helden announced at the Society’s annual Sanderson Memorial Lecture in Wellington that Forest & Bird has filed an application to join the case to defend the public interest in fully protecting the ocean around the Kermadec Islands.

“We are going to Court to seek confirmation that international law allows the Government to create ocean sanctuaries as a method to preserve and protect the marine environment,” Mr van Helden told Forest & Bird delegates and invited guests.

“Forest & Bird has been working to protect the oceans around the Kermadec Islands since the 1980s,” he said.

Mr van Helden described the ocean around the Kermadec Islands as a remarkable region where every trip by scientists yields new ocean discoveries. “Forest & Bird's considers that New Zealand has the right under the Law of the Sea to exploit resources in the marine environment but this comes with a duty to preserve and protect," he said.

Forest & Bird has advocated for protection of the sea around the Kermadecs for nearly 30 years. In the late 1980s Forest and Bird actively supported the creation of the Kermadec Marine Reserve which is currently New Zealand’s largest marine reserve but only extends to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit around each of the small volcanic islands.

Why is the Kermadec Marine Sanctuary important?

The Kermadec region is unique within New Zealand’s EEZ as our only sub-tropical region. It is the only part of New Zealand’s ocean where temperate, subtropical, and tropical species are found together.

The region has one of the most complex deep water habitats on earth and contains a remarkable array of environments that are unique within New Zealand’s EEZ, including New Zealand’s only deep-water trench that plunges to over ten kilometres deep.

At 620,000 km2, the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will be one of the largest marine sanctuaries on earth, over twice New Zealand's land area.

What does the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea say about protecting the ocean?

The Law of the Sea allows New Zealand limited sovereignty over our Exclusive Economic Zone. One of the main limitations on this sovereignty is that New Zealand must preserve and protect the marine environment in the EEZ.

Article 192 creates the general duty that: 'States have the obligation to preserve and protect the marine environment'.

Article 193 provides that: 'States have the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources pursuant to their environmental policies and in accordance with their duty to preserve and protect the marine environment.'

Have other countries created ocean sanctuaries under the Law of the Sea?

Yes. Australia, the United States, the UK, and Chile have all created extensive sanctuaries within their Exclusive Economic Zones. US President Obama is currently considering expanding the existing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument around the North-Western Hawaiian Islands. At the time it was created by US President George W. Bush the Marine National Monument was the world's largest ocean sanctuary.