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Forest & Bird condemns the Government decision to torpedo the creation of the Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary, saying it is a major blow to global efforts to protect the ocean, and to the legacy of former Prime Minister Sir John Key who championed the Sanctuary.  

“It’s astonishing that after nearly a decade of championing the Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary, National would scupper their own proposal,” Forest & Bird Chief Executive Nicola Toki says.  

In 2015, then-Prime Minister John Key announced – to international acclaim – that the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, backed by Ngāti Kuri, would become be one of the world's largest marine protected areas.    

Forest & Bird started advocating for the Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary in the 1980s. This included launching a campaign to secure World Heritage status in the 1990s. The Society was also actively involved in a 7-year campaign working with other environmental NGOs to get the sanctuary over the line and welcomed the 2015 announcement. 

The sanctuary would have covered an area twice the size of Aotearoa New Zealand's land mass, and 50 times the size of our largest national park and was heralded as a major achievement towards global efforts to better protect the ocean. 

The volcanic island chain has an essential role to play in maintaining biodiversity as home to many species of whales, dolphins and fish, as well as being part of a vital migratory path for many species.  

But today Oceans and Fisheries Minister Shane Jones and Environment Minister Penny Simmonds have announced that Cabinet has decided to scrap the proposed sanctuary and remove the Bill that would have established it from Parliament’s order paper.  

The decision may open 620,000 sq km zone for destructive seabed mining. NIWA was previously undertaking a survey in the region for seafloor minerals.   

“The reversal of this world leading decision will have a real impact on New Zealand’s natural environment and our international reputation,” Nicola Toki says.   

The existing Benthic Protected Areas don’t protect the seafloor from mining, only from fishing, and they don’t protect seabirds, protected sharks and marine mammals from being caught in trawl nets or surface long lines.   

“The Government and Minister for the Environment, Penny Simmonds, should be advocating to protect this unique and precious area and upholding New Zealand’s international treaty obligation to preserve and protect the EEZ under the Law of the Sea. Instead, they have abdicated their responsibility to protect the Kermadecs.”  

In 2022 New Zealand, along with 195 other countries, agreed to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030.

“The proposed Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary would have delivered roughly half of New Zealand’s contribution to the marine part of the 30 by 30 goal and the Government now needs to explain what they will do instead.” 

Ms Toki says that Forest & Bird is challenging the Minister’s claim that the commercial activities already occurring around the Kermadec Islands pose limited risk.  

“We’re looking to the future and are concerned at increasing global fishing pressure and the ongoing push for destructive seabed mining. It’s vital that the Government show much more environmental leadership, especially when New Zealand’s use of the ocean is governed by global treaties.”  

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