The vast oceans of New Zealand must be included in the Marine Protected Areas discussion document

Seabirds and other marine animals forage and migrate over waters well beyond the 12 nautical mile limit - the vast oceans of NZ need to be included in the Marine Protected Areas discussion document.

Forest & Bird marine advocate, scientist Karen Baird, says many of our iconic seabirds - albatross, petrels and shearwaters make use of vast areas of the New Zealand EEZ and beyond, searching for food for both themselves and their growing chicks, or as they migrate out of our waters to other parts of the world.

"Forest & Bird has identified areas within our EEZ which are regarded as globally important for these pelagic wanderers through BirdLife International's Important Bird Area Programme. New Zealand hosts more than 14 million pairs of breeding seabirds. These animals regularly use these offshore areas, it is their home it, it’s where they live and how they survive! Many of these species are highly threatened."

"Forest & Bird has identified 43 marine areas for our threatened pelagic seabirds so far, many extending beyond 12nm, based on remote bird-borne tracking data and observations at sea. In addition, another 26 seaward colony extensions for other threatened seabirds such as penguins and shags, sites where they feed, or interact socially and undertake maintenance behaviours such as preening and resting," said Ms Baird.

She says our iconic and highly threatened yellow-eyed penguin forages across the sea floor and regularly out to the 150m bathymetry mark which in areas where it breeds can be out to 50km, well beyond 12nm. To protect yellow-eyed penguins in an MPA from the direct and indirect impacts of fishing an MPA would need to extend this far into the EEZ to make any sense. For other penguins foraging ranges can be even further.

Our knowledge is still very limited with tracking data available for only some species and colonies. New areas will need to be identified in the future and it will be important for us to have the ability to protect sites at sea which are important for our threatened seabirds. Activities which threaten our seabirds include direct and indirect impacts from fisheries, from activities related to drilling for oil, seabed mining and potentially electricity generation at sea such as windmills.

"Given that more than half our endemic and native birds are seabirds, and that we have set aside around 30% of our land areas for conservation, it doesn't make sense to prevent us from protecting areas important for seabirds at sea," said Karen Baird.

Forest & Bird is calling for all New Zealanders to urgently make a submission calling for the EEZ to be included in the MPA discussion document.

Make a submission here