Spotlight on Oceans
Our system for managing marine areas is in need of significant change if we are to turn this situation around and create a sustainable future for our oceans. We need to think about managing our estuaries, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in an integrated way, including the land-based activities and catchments that impact on them.
Aotearoa New Zealand has jurisdiction over a very large marine domain, which is around 20 times the size of the country’s land area. Recent state of environment reporting has identified many conflicting uses and priorities in our oceans with some serious environmental degradation and imminent threats of species extinctions. Biodiversity is in decline. Land-based activities are polluting our oceans and shorelines. Pest species are an ever-present threat. Climate change is affecting our seas and what can thrive in them. And there are questions about how we make the best use of scarce and contested marine resources.
The need to provide a more integrated framework has long been recognised. The current legal framework has developed over more than 50 years into an uneven patchwork of provisions. There are multiple pieces of overlapping marine legislation and some significant gaps in coverage, including no marine protected area legislation that applies outside the territorial sea. Some of the legislation is outdated and no longer fit for purpose including, most notably, the Wildlife Act 1953, the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.
Ad hoc legislation for specific locations is indicative of failings in the broader system. Many Treaty and Māori customary claims over the marine area have yet to be settled. There is no overarching mechanism to help ensure that all legislation that is impacting on the marine environment is interacting coherently or producing optimal economic and environmental outcomes. We think the time has come to rethink how we manage our marine environment.