14, Feb, 2008

Government drops the ball on marine protection

Category: ECO Inc

The Government has again dropped the ball when it comes to real marine protection, says ECO, the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ. in response to today’s release of the Marine Protected Areas policy Classification, Protection Standard and Implementation Guidelines.\

ECO Chairperson Barry Weeber, said the policy contains no standard by which to judge marine protection. The policy is wishy washy and has no scientific measures for standards. It is a policy to allow fake protection, not real protection.

“This is no Valentine’s Day present for the marine environment.”

“The draft policy proposed a range of criteria which were weak. Now they have gone altogether.”.

Mr Weeber said ECO can only conclude that the draft criteria were removed when it was realised that fake protected areas, called Benthic Protected Areas, proposed by the fishing industry and adopted by the Minister of Fisheries would have failed even the weak criteria promulgated originally but now withdrawn.

“These Bogus Protected Areas are unworthy of being considered as marine protected areas and should have been rejected.”

Mr Weeber said that NIWA, using 96,000 data sets, had shown conclusively that the Bogus Protected Areas are worse at protecting our native species than areas selected at random.

“New Zealand is well behind international action on marine protected areas required by the Convention on Biodiversity Action Plan.

“It seems the Government is taking an anti-science approach to marine protection which cannot bode well for future marine protection.”

The policy has been released only a week after the release of the Government’s state of the Environment report which stated that “Marine reserves are expected to play a significant role in protecting our marine biodiversity.” ECO noted that the Local Government and Environment Select Committee had expressed concern in December at the slow progress on marine protection and that DoC did not “have protection under control”.

Mr Weeber said our marine environment will suffer further extensive losses unless the marine protected areas policy was withdrawn and redone. We have waited and waited for some reasonable policy: this is pathetic.

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For further information, contact Barry Weeber 021-738-807 or Cath Wallace 021-891-994

1. ECO has 65 member organizations with a shared concern for the environment.

2. The coastal classification system does not take into account the work of Walls (2006) and Shears et al (submitted). For example, Shears et al analysis shows that biogeographic region 10 Southern Coastal Biogeographic Region (page 10 of the Draft Classification) should be divided into three areas (Chalmers, Stewart Island, and Fiordland) and Cook Strait divided separately. The policy only separates Fiordland.

Walls K (2006) Near shore marine classification and inventory – a planning tool to help identify marine protected areas for the near shore of New Zealand. Department of Conservation, Wgtn. 344p.
Shear N.T, Smith F, Babcock R C,Villouta E, Duffy CAJ (Submitted) Evaluation of Biogeographic Classification Schemes for Conservation Planning: Application to NZ's coastal marine environment.

3. Deepwater classification (MEC) is known to be flawed and there are more modern alternatives that could have been adopted by Ministers. The problems with MEC include:

  • MEC does not use substrate data which is essential for different benthic species;
  • MEC’s coarse scale (nominal resolution of 1km) would not resolve small features and biodiversity hotspots like seamounts, hydrothermal vent communities, coldwater seeps etc. MEC uses a nominal spatial resolution of 1km;
  • Only limited biologically rich data sets were used to tune the physical parameters.
  • The data is based on long-term means and therefore may hide extremes or temporal fluctuations which often driver ecological processes.
The approach of Leathwick and others at NIWA has shown that a more biodiversity rich approach is possible. Leathwick has looked at information on demersal fish and other species to see how it applies to protection of biodiversity. The method can be used to protect endemic demersal fish as well as general biodiversity.

Leathwick J, Julian K and Francis M (2006) Exploration of the use of reserve planning software to identify potential Marine Protected Areas in New Zealand's EEZ. Report prepared for the Department of Conservation. NIWA DOC06213, June 2006.

3. Bogus Protection Areas (BPAs)
Over 84.5 percent of the areas proposed were deeper than 1500m - out of reach of most bottom trawls. Fifty percent of the area was in the Kermadec region – an area that is too deep to trawl and includes the Kermadec Trench which reaches a maximum depth of 10,047 m.

Leathwick et al stated:
"On the basis of our results we conclude that, despite their large geographic area, the focus of this proposal on existing areas that have both very low fishing value and low fish diversity, makes it a poor option for the long-term protection of demersal fish diversity in New Zealand's EEZ." (page 28)
[Demersal fish are bottom dwelling fish e.g. orange roughy.]

“The benthic protection areas …comprise 14.3% of the area of trawlable depth within the EEZ. However, they also coincide strongly with areas of low biodiversity…” (page 28)
[Trawable depth is defined as down to 1950m which is much deeper than typical orange roughy or deepwater oreo fisheries.]

“The average protection for all species provided by the 14 % of the EEZ [at trawlable depth] contained within the proposed BPAs (9.26%) is less than a quarter of the protection that would be provided by an equivalent area chosen solely for its biodiversity values (39.2%). The disparity for endemic species is even more pronounced, with the BPAs providing average protection of 6.8% compared with protection of 56.7% that would be provided with unconstrained selection of sites.” (page 23)

4. Local Government and Environment Select Committee (2007) 2006/07 Financial review of the Department of Conservation. Report of the Local Government and Environment Committee