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Eugenie Sage speaks on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill first reading



E Te Māngai o Te Whare, tēnā koe.

The Green Party is very pleased to be supporting the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill, establishing a new marine reserve in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone around the Kermadec Islands. We have had a member’s bill in the ballot, prepared by Gareth Hughes, for some time, to establish a marine protected area at the Kermadecs. We congratulated the Government when it announced its intention to create this ocean sanctuary at the United Nations in the run-up to an international oceans conference last year.

We are very pleased to support the bill. As with Scott Simpson, I have never been to the Kermandecs, but everything I have read about this island chain and the photographs I have seen show that it is an extraordinary place of enormous significance to all humankind, not just Aotearoa, because of its biodiversity and geological and cultural values. Its remoteness has protected it from the impacts of fishing and from mining, so, as others have said, it remains one of the most pristine places on the planet. It is also important because of the complexity of the deep-sea marine habitats that are there.

It includes a 12,000 kilometre section of the longest volcanic arc in the world, which extends from the Bay of Plenty up towards Tonga. You have got two tectonic plates colliding, and that means we have got this arc of underwater volcanos, active hydrothermal vents, and dramatic features like the black smoker chimneys. Those hydrothermal vents produce quite extraordinary conditions, where you have got quite strange organisms flourishing in those dark depths, in super-heated water where there are quite high levels of quite toxic compounds.

We have got, in the Kermadecs, the second-deepest ocean trench in the world, extending up to 10 kilometres deep. It is really surprising to think that fish can live at that depth. Scientists have found fish living at 8 kilometres depth, and they have got amazing adaptations to be able to live in darkness and at the extreme pressure that you get at those depths. Even though we have had quite a lot more scientific exploration of recent years, the Kermadecs still remain one of the least-understood habitats on the planet.

It is an important area for marine mammals, with blue whales, fin whales, and humpback whales migrating through the region en route to and from their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic. They are a really important place for seabirds, with at least 14 seabird species breeding on the Kermadec islands and another 28 species using the oceans around the Kermadecs to feed. Ornithologist Chris Gaskin described arriving at Macauley Island. He said there were hundreds and thousands of black-winged petrels milling about over the islands. That must have been an astonishing sight.

As Forest and Bird, one of the champions of the Kermadec sanctuary—along with the Pew Charitable Trust and World Wide Fund for Nature New Zealand—has noted, it is one of the only places in New Zealand where you get both tropical, subtropical, and temperate species of birds, whales, turtles, fish, and corals and other marine invertebrates living together.

This whole constellation of biological and geological values means that we would encourage Minister Smith, when the bill is passed, to consider nominating the Kermadecs for World Heritage status, to recognise their importance for all humankind. This bill is significant because although we have the fourth-largest exclusive economic zone in the world, an exclusive economic zone that is 15 times the size of our land mass, at the moment we do not have any effective marine protected areas in it other than the benthic protected areas, which of course do not protect the water column.

In New Zealand waters, in our marine environment, less than half a percent of our territorial sea and exclusive economic zone combined is protected. As the Minister has noted, this bill will increase that to 15 percent, and that is why it is important, particularly with the prohibition on fishing and mining, and the Department of Conservation managing the reserve and the Environmental Protection Authority managing any applications for research for scientific purposes.

There was one concern: the departmental disclosure statement did note that because of the secrecy around the project, there was not engagement with Māori interests prior to it being announced. That was disappointing, but we note that there has been extensive consultation with Ngāti Kurī and Te Aupōuri subsequently. Te Ohu Kaimoana has raised a concern about the potential impact on fishing rights allocated to iwi under the fisheries settlement, but I would note that there has been no fishing undertaken in the Kermadec region using the settlement quota in the past 10 years, so Te Ohu Kaimoana seems concerned about the potential fishing rights rather than the actual ones—and the biodiversity values far outweigh the fishing values.

Other countries in the Pacific have also recognised the importance of large fully protected marine areas to preserve biodiversity, to provide a safe haven for species, and to do what Scott Simpson suggested: ensuring that there are large areas that remain in their natural state for future generations. We have seen Australia protect nearly a million square kilometres in the Coral Sea, and New Caledonia protect 1.3 million square kilometres in the Coral Sea. So the major concern we have—not with this proposal, but with the accompanying proposals of the Government to reform the Marine Reserves Act—is that the Kermadecs seems to be it.

Yes, it certainly raises the extent of marine protected areas from 0.4 percent to 15 percent, but the Kermadecs is largely subtropical and tropical. The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will not protect representative examples of our subantarctic marine habitats and the species that inhabit those. We need to see, in our new marine protected areas legislation, the ability to create more marine protected areas in our exclusive economic zone, not just having that done by special legislation, such as this bill.

And that is because the Minister for the Environment has referred to 10 percent of the marine environment being the target; scientists internationally have referred to the desirability of having 30 percent of our marine environment protected in order to ensure that we have healthy seas, that we conserve our fish stocks, and that we protect important habitats for seabirds, marine mammals, fish, and marine invertebrates.

So 30 percent is a much more appropriate target, and the marine protected areas reform will not provide a simple process to have further marine protected areas created in the exclusive economic zone. And we understand that that has been because of the opposition of the oil-drilling and gas industries, but the value of our deep oceans is in conserving species that we have only just begun to understand. Scientists are still finding and describing new species in areas like the Kermadecs.

We understand, probably, more about areas of outer space than we do of our deep, deep oceans at the bottom of the trench. So we need to protect not just the Kermadecs, but to have a process to establish other deep-sea marine protected areas. That is why there have been several thousand submissions on the Government’s consultation document, seeking that there be such a process.

So this bill is a very good one, which the Green Party is pleased to support, but we need a clear process that will provide for not just the subtropics to be protected, but also representative examples of all of our deep-ocean habitats, given that we have got such a large exclusive economic zone and we have got a responsibility to the world to protect that, not just leave much of it open for fishing, mining, drilling, and exploitation. Thank you.