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 Some of the legislation is outdated and no longer fit for purpose including, most notably, the Wildlife Act 1953, the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.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.



Reform of the oceans management system

Aotearoa New Zealand is facing considerable problems, challenges and changes in its vast marine environment and the existing oceans management system is fragmented, outdated and ultimately not up to the task of tackling them. As a society we need to think about what we want the system to do in the future. Should we tinker with what we have, or should the system be fundamentally reimagined?

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Reform of the conservation system

EDS is investigating our system of laws, policies and institutions designed to conserve nature. Our first report highlights the many issues with its operation and concludes that the system needs to be urgently fixed. The government has since announced a programme to modernise the country's conservation laws.

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Reform of the resource management system

Between 2017 and 2020 EDS undertook a major review of Aotearoa New Zealand's resource management system. We concluded that systemic reforms were needed that went well beyond just another amendment to the Resource Management Act. The system is much wider than one piece of legislation and needs to be approached holistically. The government has now embarked on a reform process that has picked up on many of our recommendations, seeking to create a system that is fit for purpose, not just for modern times but also a future that will look very different to the present.

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