Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

New marine reserves, sanctuaries announced to protect Kaikoura's wildlife

The measures would benefit Kaikoura's whales, dolphins, seals, albatross, rock lobster, shellfish and finfish. Photo / Derek Chen
The measures would benefit Kaikoura's whales, dolphins, seals, albatross, rock lobster, shellfish and finfish. Photo / Derek Chen

Kaikoura's world-renowned wild marine environment will be better protected by a new marine reserve, whale and fur seal sanctuary, five customary fishing areas and amateur fishing regulations, all announced by the Government today.

The new measures announced by Conservation Minister Nick Smith today covers the 10,416ha Hikurangi marine reserve, the 4686 sq km Kaikoura whale sanctuary, the Ohau point New Zealand fur seal sanctuary, and the Mangamaunu Mussel Rock and Oaro maitaitai reserves.

The Hikurangi marine reserve is focused on the very deep waters of the area's canyon, connecting with the land for about two kilometres just north of Goose Bay and extending out to 23 km.

The new reserve, banning mining, fishing or harvesting of any kind in the area, was larger and deeper than any existing marine reserve on New Zealand's three main islands.

The Kaikoura whale sanctuary extends 45 kilometres north and south of the Kaikoura peninsula and 56km out to sea, protecting the sperm, humpback, southern right, blue, killer and other whales that frequent the area and prohibits high-level seismic survey work.

The Ohau point New Zealand fur seal sanctuary sanctuary extends 700m along the coastal side of State Highway 1 out about 50 metres to the low water spring mark, covering an approximate area of four hectares.

It takes in the most significant breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals on the country's main islands, and public access will be restricted to the viewing platforms to give the estimated 3000 seals in the area respite from human interference.

The Mangamaunu, Mussel Rock and Oaro maitaitai reserves meanwhile bans commercial fishing and protects customary fishing beds.

Two larger taiapure reserves, or locally managed recreational fishing areas, are to be established on the Kaikoura Peninsula and Oaro/Haumuri area.

Under new recreational fishing regulations announced, recreational catch and size limits will be tightened within the Te Korowai area because of concern about unsustainable pressure on fishing stocks.

Tighter catch limits would apply to blue cod, rig, paua, crayfish, cockles, karengo and bladder kelp.

"Kaikoura's extraordinary marine environment needs the protection and recognition of these new sanctuaries and reserves," Dr Smith said.

"This is the most biologically rich ocean anywhere in the world over 500 metres depth because of its deep canyon so close to shore."

The measures would benefit Kaikoura's whales, dolphins, seals, albatross, rock lobster, shellfish and finfish as well as helping to sustain Kaikoura's $134 million a year tourism industry, he said.

"Kaikoura is defined by its wild coastline, whales and crayfish. The debate over marine protection has been going for more than 20 years."

Dr Smith would be introducing the Kaikoura Marine Management Bill to Parliament in the next week to create the new reserves and sanctuaries, and to introduce changes to recreational fishing regulations.

The public would get to have a say through the select committee process.

"Our ambition is to pass the legislation this year and have these new marine protections and management tools in place by 2015."

WWF-New Zealand welcomed the move.

"This is the type of protection we need to see more of to help protect New Zealand oceans and the animals that live there," the group's executive director Chris Howe said.

"This package will not only help protect wildlife but it will benefit people and the economy. Looking after our environment brings term long-term economic benefits and it is great to see that approach being taken here."

Mr Howe said the package should be complemented by an end to oil exploration off the Kaikoura coast.

"It would be a tragedy to see all this good work, and the local economy put at risk by an oil spill."

There also needed to be systematic marine protection developed across New Zealand's oceans, he said, and the group called on the Government to "urgently progress the marine protected areas legislation that was proposed last August".

"This legislation is critical for looking after our oceans and needs to be a priority for this Government and whoever is in power for the next term.

"To make this legislation effective it must be followed urgently by a comprehensive plan for setting up a network of protected areas in our oceans, and for dealing with our marine environment as a whole."

A comprehensive plan would also help New Zealand reach the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity targets, which the country had signed up to, of protecting 10 per cent of our ocean by 2020.

Around 0.5 percent of New Zealand oceans was currently protected and the issue needed to be addressed "urgently".

"Any comprehensive marine plan also needs to include setting aside our most ecologically important marine habitats and this should include creating a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

"Protecting this nearly pristine area, home to an amazing array of marine life, would be a significant step in global marine conservation."

Whale Watch Kaikoura chief operating officer Kauahi Ngapora said the Government's decision demonstrated a commitment to protecting an environment that had re-invigorated the Kaikoura community.

"We are passionate about protecting and nurturing what is an essential cultural, spiritual and economic taonga for the people of Kaikoura and New Zealand," Mr Ngapora said.
"The Government, through this announcement, has shown it is committed to protecting this national treasure also."

Mr Ngapora said the introduction of the new conservation measures was a "victory" for many in the local community who had worked together under Te Korowai o Te Tai o Marokura to develop strategies to protect the coastline and marine life of the Kaikoura coast.

In 2012, Te Korowai released the Kaikoura Marine Strategy, which incorporated more than seven years of research and discussion by the Kaikoura community and people from all over New Zealand.

"Te Korowai brought together a range of stakeholders to develop viable solutions that put sustainability and the well-being of this cherished region, and our coastline and ocean, at the heart of decision-making."

The new proposals provide for an on-going advisory role for the Te Korowai group in advising the Ministers of Conservation and Primary Industries on Kaikoura marine reserves.

Forest and Bird also welcomed the news as a "positive step", but like WWF-New Zealand, called for the Government to go further by ensuring the environment was not threatened by oil spills.

"It is highly contradictory that the Government is positioning itself in this election year as the saviour of our marine environment, when it is effectively subsidising the dangerous, climate-changing deep sea oil drilling industry to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year," advocate Karen Baird said.

Drilling rights to 12 per cent of the Exclusive Economic Zone had been or were about to be sold off to the oil and gas industry, yet less than one per cent of New Zealand's total EEZ was fully protected by marine reserves, she said.

"All the current marine reserves are inside the 12 nautical mile territorial limit," Ms Baird said.

"This leaves none of our deep water and open ocean ecosystems protected in any way. They are no less important to our natural heritage."

The announcement was another major move in marine conservation announced by the Government in past weeks.

At the start of the month, Dr Smith opened new marine reserves covering the subantarctic Antipodes and Bounty islands, and Campbell Island.

Yesterday, the Government announced it would work together with Australia on proposals to develop a new international agreement for improving conservation and management of the marine environment beyond countries' national jurisdiction.

In 2012, the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development agreed on a deadline to report back to the United Nations General Assembly on filling this gap in oceans governance by September 2015.

United Nations discussions on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction are due to be held in New York next month.

Making the announcement in Kaikoura, Dr Smith and Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said working closely together on the issue made "good sense".

- NZ Herald

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