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Eugenie Sage questions the Minister for the Environment about deep sea marine protection



EUGENIE SAGE to the Minister for the Environment: When he said last year that the Marine Reserves Act “is now outdated. It does not provide for protection in the huge Exclusive Economic Zone”, was he saying that a new Act should provide for new marine reserves in our EEZ; if so, why has his position changed?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Marine protection is needed in the exclusive economic zone, and that is why our Government is committed to the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, covering 15 percent of the exclusive economic zone. It will provide for an area twice the land size of New Zealand in which mining, fishing, and petroleum drilling will be banned. We have modified our language in the exclusive economic zone from “marine reserve” to “ocean sanctuary”, based on the legal advice that our rights and obligations in the exclusive economic zone are different from those in the territorial sea under international law. For instance, deep-sea cables that would be prohibited in a marine reserve cannot be prohibited in the exclusive economic zone under that law, nor a number of shipping activities. I do not think the public will mind whether it is called an ocean sanctuary or a marine reserve; what they care about is that 15 percent of our exclusive economic zone will be fully protected under this Government.

Eugenie Sage: Does he agree that the reform legislation, apart from the special legislation for the Kermadecs, will do nothing to protect 94 percent of the marine environment—areas where threatened seabirds such as albatross and yellow-eyed penguins feed—and nothing to protect the deep-sea ecosystems that our billion-dollar fishing industry depends on?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think you need to look at the Government’s legislation package as a whole. When you consider that this Government is committing to protecting 15 percent of our exclusive economic zone in the Kermadec area—an area 50 times the size of Fiordland, our biggest conservation area; an area that has got over 50 volcanoes and that has got 20 species of marine life—I would be expecting the Green Party to be congratulating this Government on its marine conservation efforts.

Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister saying that he is comfortable that oil and gas drilling, seabed mining, and fishing can occur throughout the exclusive economic zone without balancing this with a new law that enables some areas within the exclusive economic zone outside the Kermadecs to be protected?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We are the very first Government in the 150-plus year history of this nation to set aside an area of the exclusive economic zone for pure protection. I make this further point to the member: the area of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will be the largest no-take, contiguous area of ocean anywhere in the world. New Zealand is setting aside the biggest area anywhere in the world for marine conservation. I think that is something that all members of this House should celebrate.

Scott Simpson: What overall progress has this Government made to improving the management and protection of our marine environment?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Our first achievement was in putting in place the exclusive economic zone legislation, because prior to that deep-sea drilling, or any of those activities, could be done out in the exclusive economic zone without any requirement for a consent or any restrictions at all. Our second step has been making real progress on a number of marine reserves that had stalled for years or, in some cases, decades. The three new marine reserves in the Subantarctic Islands, the five new marine reserves on the West Coast, and the new marine reserve at Kaikōura and at Akaroa are all examples of progress in marine conservation under this Government. The last, I would re-emphasise again and about which I have had numerous correspondence from all round the world, is the Prime Minister’s announcement of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which I think has been welcomed internationally as well as in our own country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask this Minister, if he thinks the history of this country is 150 years—if he thinks that that is an appropriate thing to say in this Parliament, why does he not resign?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I openly acknowledge that our Māori people have been here for 800 years, but this institution of Parliament has been going for 150 years, and I say again—I say again—that this Parliament has never made as good a progress in marine conservation as it has under this Government.

Eugenie Sage: Given the widespread support for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, is he really convinced that his new marine protected areas legislation cannot provide a simple process to create new marine protected areas in the exclusive economic zone, which comprises 94 percent of our ocean environment?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: As I have said to the member, we are setting aside 15 percent of that exclusive economic zone with the Kermadec legislation. In respect of the marine protected area proposals providing for four different types of marine protection tools, species-specific sanctuaries, seabed reserves, and marine reserves, as well as recreational fishing parks, they are more appropriate for the territorial sea. For instance, it is perfectly proper for local communities to have a say in their sea immediately adjacent to their community, but it is the Government’s view that, in respect of the exclusive economic zone, the more appropriate way is special legislation, and that is exactly what we are doing with the Kermadec Islands.


Tags: marine conservation, marine reserves, marine protected areas, Kermadecs, oceans, EEZ