New Zealand has a biologically rich and complex seascape. Our marine environment covers some 480 million hectares of ocean and our Exclusive Economic Zone is the fourth largest in the world. More than 15,000 marine species have been found in this sea. Because New Zealand is so isolated, a particularly high proportion of species is found only here.
The Government, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, is committed to maintaining and preserving the natural heritage of both our lands and waters, and is doing so through the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. An aim of the Strategy is that marine habitats and ecosystems will be maintained in a healthy functioning state, and degraded areas will be allowed to recover.
A full range of New Zealand’s marine habitats and ecosystems will be protected. The Marine Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan (MPA Policy) will be a key means of achieving this, and is a project led by the Ministry of Fisheries and the Department of Conservation.
In the past, the approach to marine protection has been fragmented. The MPA Policy does much better. It provides an integrated process, including regional consultation, for establishing a network of marine protected areas around New Zealand.
This new process is designed to be inclusive and transparent. We want regional councils,marine users, tangata whenua and those with an interest in marine biodiversity to all be involved. Implementation will be underpinned by a commitment to minimise the impact of new protected areas on existing users of the marine environment and Treaty settlement obligations.
Planning for marine protection will be science-based, using a consistent approach to habitat and ecosystem classification, and an inventory of marine protected areas to determine gaps in the network. This will drive priorities for protection. Consideration of threats would influence further priorities.
The resulting network will be comprehensive, by protecting both representative areas and areas that are outstanding and rare. A range of management tools will be used, including marine reserves, Fisheries Act tools, and tools under the Resource Management Act.
The aim is to have 10% of New Zealand’s marine environment with some form of protection by 2010. These protected areas will provide an invaluable store of genetic diversity that will contribute to maintaining the health of the wider marine environment.
They will also provide opportunities for recreation, marine tourism, scientific research and
education, and will enhance New Zealand’s environmental performance.