Developing a network of marine reserves for New Zealand

Kathy Walls, Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai, PO Box 112, Hamilton, New Zealand

New Zealandís Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompasses some 4.8 million km2 of sea. The marine communities within the EEZ are diverse, ranging from subtropical to subantarctic regions and the shallow continental shelf to abyssal depths. The wide variety of physical conditions and the countryís geographic isolation have contributed to a rich marine flora and fauna, including many endemic species.

In New Zealand, the Marine Reserves Act, 1971 is implemented to establish marine reserves within the Territorial Sea. There is no comparable legislation for protecting marine areas further offshore. Marine reserves are areas of the foreshore, sea, and seabed which are protected from harvesting. Although the Act was promulgated in 1971, only fourteen marine reserves had been established by the end of 1997 with greatest progress being made during the 1990ís (twelve established).

Only 4% of the 0.16 million km2 of Territorial Sea is protected in marine reserves with the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve accounting for 75% of protected marine area. When compared with the total sea area of the EEZ, the percentage of protected marine area is minuscule.

While the limitation to the Territorial Sea prevents protection of offshore habitats through marine reserves legislation, the Department of Conservation has begun to facilitate development of a network of marine reserves within the Territorial Sea.

A network of marine reserves around New Zealand will: incorporate a full set of complimentary sites representing the range of nearshore habitats; assist with preserving biological diversity; and, protect New Zealandís marine heritage. Work has begun on a nearshore marine classification to assist development of the network. The classification integrates information from a wide range of sources including interviews with New Zealand marine specialists. The classification may also be used as a guide for external groups interested in proposing marine reserves. Public consultation for potential marine reserve sites will continue to be a crucial component of the marine reserve establishment process.

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