Marine protected areas and marine reserves
The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, adopted in 2000, identified a range of priority actions to protect and restore New Zealand's indigenous biodiversity. In relation to marine biodiversity, the priority actions include development and implementation of a strategy to establish a network of areas to protect marine biodiversity, and a review of the Marine Reserves Act to better provide for protection of biodiversity.
Marine protected areas policy
The Ministry and the Department of Conservation have developed a Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Policy and Implementation Plan, following public consultation early in 2005. The proposed Policy is a new and integrated approach to marine protection that will promote the systematic development of a comprehensive and representative MPA network to protect marine biodiversity. The Policy seeks to establish MPAs using a range of existing tools such as marine reserves, Fisheries Act measures, and Resource Management Act tools. It is envisaged that the improved processes associated with the implementation of the Policy should help reduce some of the opposition that is currently associated with proposals for marine reserves and other MPAs.
The Policy sets out the Government's MPA objectives; outlines how government agencies, tangata whenua and interested parties can work together to achieve those objectives; and includes principles to guide the design of the MPA network and the MPA planning processes. Choice of MPA sites will be underpinned by a commitment to minimise the impact of new MPAs on existing users of the marine environment and Treaty settlement obligations.
Under the Policy, planning for MPAs will be science-based, using a consistent approach to the classification of ecosystems and habitats. The Policy will also establish a protection standard against which potential MPAs will be assessed to see whether they provide a sufficient standard of protection to be included in the network.
The Policy proposes a four-stage approach to implementation:
- Stage 1: Development of the approach to classification, formulation of a standard of protection, and mapping of existing protected areas and/or mechanisms. Scientific workshops will be used to assist with the process, and the results will be put on the website for comment
- Stage 2: Development of the MPA inventory, identification of gaps in the MPA network, and prioritisation of new MPAs
- Stage 3: Establishment of new MPAs to meet gaps in the network. This will be undertaken at a regional level and a national process will be followed for offshore MPAs
- Stage 4: Evaluation and monitoring.
Over the next year, some regional MPA planning will continue for the Hauraki Gulf and West Coast of the South Island. The intention is that this work be done in a manner consistent with the Policy and not proceed to formal applications until Stages 2 and 3 have been completed, but this will require careful management of these processes.
The Policy has not yet been approved for released, however Stage 1 implementation work to develop the approach to classification and the protection standard is underway. Decisions are still to be made on implementation, which could have substantial resourcing implications.
Marine Reserves Bill
The Marine Reserves Act 1971, administered by the Department of Conservation, provides for marine reserves to be established for the purpose of scientific study, within the territorial sea.
In June 2002 a Marine Reserves Bill was referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. Key changes from the Marine Reserves Act 1971 are:
- a revised purpose focussing more on biodiversity protection
- ability to establish marine reserves in the Exclusive Economic Zone
- removal of discretion to allow fishing in marine reserves
- an expanded undue adverse effects test which the Minister of Conservation applies in any decision to proceed with a reserve proposal
- a requirement that the Minister of Conservation consult the Minister of Fisheries and other Ministers before approving the establishment of a reserve (replacing the current requirement for Ministerial concurrence)
- significant amendment to the process for establishing reserves.
The Marine Reserves Bill is yet to be reported back to Parliament. It has been the subject of significant opposition from tangata whenua and fisheries stakeholders. At the request of the Select Committee, the Ministry and Te Puni Kokiri have been assisting the Department of Conservation in providing advice on the Bill. While agencies are supportive of improved measures to protect marine biodiversity, there have been significant tensions amongst them about the best way to achieve the Government's biodiversity goals and the resulting nature of advice being provided to the Select Committee.
In January 2005 the Ministry responded to a request from the Minister of Fisheries for advice on amendments to facilitate progress on the Bill and still achieve the Government's biodiversity objectives. Possible measures suggested included making sure the purpose of the Bill remains focussed on biodiversity protection, and prioritising marine reserves based on the degree of threat or risk to the habitat or ecosystem in question.
Another difficulty is that the Bill requires marine reserves to be used to protect biodiversity, even though in some cases biodiversity protection could be achieved through management interventions that would impose less cost. The Ministry suggested amending the Bill so that for representative/typical communities and ecosystems consideration be given to whether the biodiversity could be protected through a management tool(s) that allows some concurrent extractive (fishing) use (i.e. Using tools other than marine reserves, like fisheries method restrictions and controls under the Resource Management Act). Use of a range of tools to protect marine biodiversity is consistent with the proposed MPA Policy.
The Ministry also suggested some further amendments to provide better protection of customary fishing rights recognised through the Fisheries Deed of Settlement and thereby reduce the risk of legal challenge and breach of Treaty settlement.