Preserving the natural character of estuaries and other sensitive coastal environments

Chris Richmond - Department of Conservation and Victoria Froude - Pacific Ecological Resource Management Consultants

Preservation of the natural character of estuaries and other parts of the coastal environment has been a matter of national importance under the planning and resource management legislation (since 1973) and under protected area legislation (since 1977). This reflects international agreements within the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands requiring protection of the ecological natural character of important estuaries and other wetlands.

Natural character has aesthetic and ecological dimensions which are formally elucidated in case-law and the 1994 findings of the Board of Inquiry into the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. The key elements of ecological natural character, above and below mean high water, are described for New Zealand estuaries and enclosed coastal waters.

Methods of protecting, preserving and restoring ecological natural character will be described, together with responsibilities for implementation by central and local government. Progress to date will be assessed. This will include examples of best practice using: planning tools such as estuarine protection zones, protected area tools such as marine reserves and wildlife management reserves; and comprehensive restoration strategies such as that for Maketu Estuary.

Reviews of progress by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Pacific Ecological will be reported. Suggestions will be made about the design and implementation of provisions for protecting, preserving and restoring natural character of estuaries and other sensitive coastal ecosystems.

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