A system of marine reserves: the opportunity and the obligation.

Bill Ballantine.

Over the past 30 years, New Zealand has learnt the practicality and value of 'no-take' marine reserves. The first was established 20 years ago. There are now 14 in place. At least 25 more proposals are under active public discussion. All the major political parties say they favour more marine reserves.

So far each reserve proposal has been considered separately. Despite steadily increasing approval, there is no overall policy, no final aim and no timetable for the process. The opportunity now exists to create a full system of marine reserves based on clear and generally-agreed principles:- representation (examples of all marine habitats in each region of the country); sensible amounts of replication (adjusting to popularity and to guard against accidents); a network design (making remote dispersal an advantage; and a total amount sufficient to be self-sustainable (at least 10% by area).

Our uses of the sea depend on its natural processes. Our power of positive control over these processes is minimal. Our knowledge of these processes is still very limited. There is thus an obligation to retain areas in the sea which are maintained in the natural state as far as possible. This is important for science, valuable to eduation, helpful to many forms of recreation, and essential for conservation. Unexploited areas are also required to act as insurance against ignorance and errors and as support for exploited stocks.

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