Scrapping Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary a ‘huge blow’ for marine protection

Hawksbill turtle - Kermadec Islands
© Malcolm Francis
Press Release

The Government’s announcement that it will scrap plans for a vast marine sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands is ‘shameful’ and will make it impossible for Aotearoa New Zealand to meet its international commitments, says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Zealand.

Plans had been underway for a 620,000 square kilometre ocean sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands/Rangitāhua to protect what is one of the last precious and untouched places on earth. The proposal has long been supported by Ngāti Kuri, who have an enduring relationship with the islands and wider marine area.

The Kermadec Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary would see around 15 percent of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone protected and bring New Zealand significantly closer to having 30 percent of its ocean in highly-protected marine areas by 2030.

New Zealand committed to create a global network of Marine Protected Areas covering 30 percent of oceans by 2030 when it adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the UN High Seas Treaty.

“Scrapping the Kermadec/Rangitāhua Ocean Sanctuary is a huge blow to marine protection in Aotearoa and means there is no chance of New Zealand meeting its international commitments to protect 30 percent of our ocean by 2030,” says WWF-New Zealand’s CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb.

“The Kermadecs are a critical hotspot for global biodiversity and home to rare birds, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish species. We don’t just owe it to future generations of New Zealanders to protect this special place – we owe it to the rest of the world.

“Abandoning this proposal now is utterly shameful and shows a blatant disregard not only for our marine life, but for the New Zealanders who rely on a healthy ocean for their livelihoods.

“New Zealand is a maritime nation and a thriving ocean is essential for our economy and wider wellbeing. It’s ironic that a Government claiming to focus on driving export-growth would go so far out of its way to trash our international reputation and put all this at risk,” she says.

Little to no commercial fishing has been undertaken in the Kermadec region by the New Zealand fleet, due mainly to its remote distance making the effort uneconomic. However, foreign flagged vessels actively target tuna on the margins of the Kermadec region, which is the outer reach of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“Creating a Rangitāhua Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is critical to our efforts to halt and reverse nature loss, and to mitigate the impacts of our changing climate - the twin existential crises of our time. Actively protecting this region from exploitation is also important for upholding the territorial sovereignty of New Zealand’s EEZ," says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

“Yet again this Government is siding with destructive industries like seabed mining and oil exploration and seeking to plunder our natural resources for short-term profit.

“New Zealanders care deeply about our ocean and poll after poll has shown there’s strong public support for a sanctuary in the Kermadec region. This is just the latest affront in this Government’s shameful war on nature. It’s embarrassing – and it will not go unopposed by Kiwis.”