Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Marine reserves south of NZ approved by MPs

Scientists observe a southern right whale off the coast of the Auckland Islands. Photo / University of Otago
Scientists observe a southern right whale off the coast of the Auckland Islands. Photo / University of Otago

Three massive marine reserves will be established around remote islands south of New Zealand after MPs gave them the green light last night.

Parliament approved 435,000 hectares of no-take zones around the Subantarctic Islands, between 450km and 900km off the coast of the South Island.

The law change would introduce protected areas in the seas around the Antipodes, Bounty and Campbell Islands, and would empower the Navy to enforce the provisions.

The islands are a breeding area for southern right whales, New Zealand fur seals and sea lions. A tenth of the world's seabirds breed on the five island groups, including the southern royal albatross.

At the third reading of the legislation, Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the area was a "very special, albeit very remote part of New Zealand" which contained the deepest ocean within this country's territorial waters - a 3000 metre drop next to the Bounty Islands which the minister described as a "reverse of Mount Cook".

The reserves would ban all fishing, mining and petroleum exploration within the protected areas.

Dr Smith has made marine protection one of his top priorities because 70 per cent of New Zealand's native species were found in the ocean.

The National-led Government is aiming to establish a record number of reserves this year.

The addition of the new reserves would mean that 9.56 per cent of New Zealand's territorial waters - the area out to 12 miles from the coast - was protected.

Conservation groups welcomed the establishment of new reserves and encouraged Government to continue increasing the proportion of protected areas to unprotected areas.

If the entire Exclusive Economic Zone was taken into account, around 0.4 per cent of New Zealand waters was a no-take zone.

In comparison, a third of New Zealand's land was protected.

The five island groups which make up the Subantarctics are one of just three sites in New Zealand which have been granted World Heritage status.

WWF NZ head of campaigns Peter Hardstaff said his group was delighted the Government had set up marine reserves around the islands, "because this kind of protection is vital if we are to be effective stewards of our oceans and the animals that live there".

"However, while new reserves are welcome, what New Zealand needs most of all is a comprehensive plan for looking after our marine environment," he said.

"We all need to be clear on where we want protection, where we can fish and what other type of activities will be allowed. Let's do it once and lets do it right. Our oceans deserve it."

Mr Hardstaff said legislation to set up a comprehensive marine spatial plan for looking after our oceans should be a priority for the Government and whoever was in power for the next term.

"This plan needs to include setting aside our most ecologically important marine habitats and a good starting point would be to create a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Biggest marine reserves

* Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve (1990), 748,000 hectares

* Auckland Islands Marine Reserve (2003), 498,000 hectares

* Subantarctic Islands (2014), 435,163 hectares

- NZ Herald

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