“Otago is the only region in the entire country without a marine protected area, despite being home to some of our most endangered wildlife, like the hoiho, toroa, and New Zealand sea lions. It is a region of incredible, unique, indigenous biodiversity and it is our duty to protect it,” says WWF-New Zealand CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an essential tool to protect and restore our marine environment, by allowing marine habitats and the creatures that rely upon them to recover and thrive. It’s well established that MPAs also benefit the communities and industries that rely on these areas for their livelihoods, such as commercial and recreational fishers and tourism operators.
But despite this, only a tiny fraction of New Zealand’s marine environment is protected.
The 6 new marine reserves will be the first in the south-eastern South Island and will increase mainland reserves by more than 60 per cent.
While this is great news for the communities in Otago that rely on a healthy ocean, Dr Kingdon-Bebb stresses that we need to go much further - and faster - to safeguard New Zealand’s marine habitats for future generations.
“We know that setting aside areas to protect and sustain our native species and their habitats is necessary for the health and wellbeing of people and nature. To turn the tide on biodiversity loss, we need at least 30% of our ocean placed in well-managed highly protected areas,” she says.
“But even with this new network of protection in the South Island, less than one per cent of New Zealand’s ocean territory will be protected. This is a travesty for a country that depends so strongly on the ocean and its resources.”
A community forum to determine the future of marine protection along the Otago coast was announced in 2013 by former Conservation Minister Hon Dr Nick Smith. A decade later, WWF-New Zealand is rapt that an outcome has finally been achieved.
“The recent outcomes of the SeaChange process in Tīkapa Moana / the Hauraki Gulf, along with the progress made here, show that navigating competing interests to sustain the health of our oceans is possible, and can be achieved elsewhere across the country,” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.
However, to achieve the 30% protection target WWF believes a dramatic overhaul of New Zealand’s marine protection legislation is required.
“Our marine protection toolbox needs to be expanded to include a wide range of best-practice tools, and to recognise tikanga-based, Treaty-consistent approaches to marine management such as rāhui” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.