Growing up on the West Coast of British Columbia, the Pacific Ocean was ever-present. Long kayak journeys with my parents, crabbing with my Great Aunt and cousins, eagerly awaiting the first run of wild spring salmon. Ocean swims in the height of summer, exploring the incredible world alive beneath the waves. I cherished the same ocean that is a treasure to so many New Zealanders.
Every second breath we take comes from the ocean, generated by marine photosynthesizers like phytoplankton and seaweed. Many of our marine mammals and seabirds travel incredible distances from shore to shore. We rely on the vast resources of our ocean for sustenance. Across the vast span of the Pacific / Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, we are united as oceanic peoples.
Many years on, my husband and I now live on the wild south coast of Wellington / Te Whanganui-a-Tara, across the street from one of New Zealand’s few precious marine reserves. Created in 2008, Taputeranga Marine Reserve is treasured by our local community. The abundance of life in its waters is truly spectacular, and I feel incredibly lucky to get to live so near to it.
Almost 400 species of seaweed (about half of New Zealand’s total 850 species) can be found there. Beneath the kelp beds live more than 180 species of fish, as well as rock lobster (crayfish/kōura), kina (sea urchin), pāua, starfish, crabs, sponges and octopus.
Seabirds, including Northern blue penguins (kororā), nest along the shore and on Taputeranga Island. Killer whales/orca and dolphins are often seen foraging in the reserve, sometimes quite close to shore. Humpback and southern right whales visit during their annual migration. Many albatross and petrel species pass through Cook Strait and a colony of New Zealand fur seals/kekeno spends the winter months at Red Rocks/Pariwhero just beyond the marine reserve boundary at Ōwhiro Bay.
It’s only been a fully protected reserve for 15 years, but the regeneration and recovery of the threatened marine life within it has been astonishing.
This is the difference that marine protected areas can make, and why our work towards the target of protecting 30% of New Zealand’s ocean territory by 2030 is so important.
I represented New Zealand in the United Nations negotiations that delivered the new Global Biodiversity Framework last year, and through those lengthy deliberations the perilous state of our native species and ecosystem weighed heavily on my mind.
So many of our native species that depend on the ocean are in serious trouble: 22 percent of marine mammals, 90 percent of seabirds, and 80 percent of our shorebirds are classified as threatened or at risk.
This current decline means that shortly, species like the Antipodean albatross will be on the verge of extinction. This bird lives nowhere else on Earth - it belongs to this place as much as the Kiwi does, and as much as we do. I cannot bring myself to imagine a future in which we lose another species to extinction, when we could have done something to save it.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are critical for biodiversity recovery, as they provide refuges for our threatened and declining marine species. They're also increasingly important for climate change mitigation and adaptation. And we also know that MPAs can be good for commercial and recreational fisheries, by creating cradles of abundance that improve catch rates through a halo effect.
Despite this, less than 0.5% of New Zealand's waters are fully protected. This is, frankly, shameful for a country that used to be a global leader in ocean conservation in the 1970s, and which boasts one of our planet’s largest ocean territories.
The urgent need to turn the tide on biodiversity loss in our ocean is one of the main reasons I decided to join WWF-New Zealand as CEO.
It’s not too late - but we need your help.