“Dear Pessimist, Optimist and Realist – while you were arguing we implemented BPAs – Regards Opportunist”


I read a couple of articles in the New Zealand Herald. One in yesterday’s Metro supplementary pullout entitled “Sea for Yourself” by Sophie Barclay, and another a by Linda Herrick that was published a couple of weeks ago, called “Pristine ocean needs to become sanctuary“.

These articles brought to mind a ‘facebook funny’ that is making the rounds.

Dear Pessimist, Optimist and Realist

Both of the storys mentioned above are unduely pessimistic, one moreso than the other. They address New Zealand’s marine sanctuary/protected area short-comings – without looking at what we actually do have in place, nor realising that 5 years ago an opportunity had been ceased, and that a remarkable initiative had been implemented. As an illustration of what I am trying to say, in her article on marine biodiversity protection, Sophie Barclay writes:

In a country where 33% of our land is protected, a similar conservation ethic should apply to our ubiquitous coastline. However only 7% of our waters are protected. Excluding our two major offshore marine reserves, the figure chops to less than 0.1% of the mainland coast. We have failed miserably to meet our obligations under the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy of 10% protected by 2010. Given that 80% of our national biodiversity is found in the ocean, we need more marine reserves.

I find myself a little perplexed by the above quote. Surely the referencing of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (2000) for the purposes of showing what we have and haven’t done with respect to marine biodiversity conservation and preservation is like referencing the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 for the purposes of illustrating New Zealand’s Constitutional status. Goodness, it is like reading Oliver Twist and maintaining that we still haven’t pushed through much needed labour reforms.

A picture speaks a thousand words… The New Zealand Diversity Strategy (2000) features the map below…

New Zealand’s Marine Environment and Protected Marine Areas (Figure 3.2 New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. 2000. New Zealand Government. Part Three: Theme 3 – Coastal and Marine Biodiversity. P56)

This map paints a pretty stark picture of New Zealand marine biodiversity protection doesn’t it? But then this map is over 12 years old. Below the map the strategy outlines its case for increased protection of biodiversity (interestingly the biodiversity highlighted as most in need of protection is benthic and seamount biodiversity):

“About 8000 marine species have been described in New Zealand waters, including 61 seabirds, 41 marine mammals, 964 fish (of which 108 are endemic), 2000 molluscs (snails, shellfish and squid), 350 sponges, 400 echinoderms (kina, starfish and so on), 900 species of seaweeds and 700 species of micro-algae. These make up almost one-third of New Zealand’s total number of described indigenous species.

However, there are many more to be discovered, with seven new species being identified on average each fortnight. Marine scientists estimate that perhaps as much as 80 percent of New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity is found in the sea. While many of our marine fish are found in other countries’ seas, many of our benthic (bottom dwelling) marine species are endemic to New Zealand.”

This is followed by a section in a dialogue box entitled Seamounts – jewels of the ocean. In this special ‘somewhat provocative’ section it is written:

“… New Zealand, with its complex undersea landforms, has many and varied seamounts scattered throughout the region. Many have only recently been discovered. The marine life inhabiting our seamounts is poorly known and many species have yet to be described. However, we do know that seamounts host many unusual and unique species and have rich biodiversity. Species include benthic (bottom dwelling) animals like bryozoans (small coral-like animals), corals (some growing in “trees” up to 15 metres tall), sea stars, sea cucumbers, sponges, molluscs, anemones and crabs. Seamounts also attract fish and so have become favoured sites for deep-sea fishing for species like orange roughy, oreo and cardinal fish.  There is growing concern among marine scientists in New Zealand about the impact of deep sea fishing using bottom-dragging trawl nets on seamount communities, for example within the Chatham Rise fishery. Research on seamounts south of Tasmania has shown destructive effects in heavily trawled areas. Deep-sea benthic species are particularly vulnerable to disturbance because they are generally slow to grow and reproduce. Some of the coral trees, for example, are estimated to be centuries old…”

The strategy acknowledges that biodiversity has been protected in New Zealand by a number of legislative tools, but that the focus has been on ‘sustaining fisheries’ rather than ‘protecting marine biodiversity’.

“Management of the marine environment over the last century has largely focused on sustaining fisheries for use, rather than protecting marine biodiversity for its own sake. This differs from our approach on land where there has been a greater emphasis on protecting species and their habitats… Only a limited number of species are protected under law – our marine mammals (protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978), most seabirds and a small number of other species (spotted black groper, marine reptiles, black and red corals)(protected under the Wildlife Act 1953). Approximately 4 percent29 of the territorial sea is protected in marine reserves that are established for scientific purposes under the Marine Reserves Act 1971.”

But then when has the balck and white of the law books ever stymied a good idea?

These pictures (below)(that also speak a thousand words) were produced a decade after the map above that was published in the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy of 2000.

Location of benthic protection areas (BPAs) and seamount closures in New Zealand’s EEZ. (Fig.1. From Helson et al. 2010. Private rights, public benefits: Industry-driven seabed protection. Marine Policy, Volume 34, Issue 3, May 2010, Pages 557-566).

Location of the seamount closures (filled red boxes) and benthic protection areas (open red boxes) overlaid with the Marine Environment Classification 2005 (Figure 3: From Helson et al. 2010. Private rights, public benefits: Industry-driven seabed protection. Marine Policy, Volume 34, Issue 3, May 2010, Pages 557-566).

These two maps directly tell us a very different story. They indicate to us that large areas of New Zealand’s EEZ are closed either to all forms of fishing (in the case of Seamount Closures) and to bottom trawling, and dredging and other methods that contact the seabed (in the case of Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs)) so taht New Zealand’s marine biodiversity in those areas can be protected.

So why the inconsistency?

Well its easy. These measures that protect marine biodiversity were not only ignored by Barclay and and Herrick, they were implemented after 2000.

How did they come about?

BPAs are a collaboration of the seafood industry and the New Zealand government. Currently the primary legislation for establishing marine protection in New Zealand is the Marine Reserves Act 1971, which only allows for the establishment of a marine reserve in the New Zealand territorial sea.  The problem here is we all know that lots of New Zealand’s biodiversity exists in deepwater benthic habitats on the continental shelf or continental rise of the New Zealand micro-continent, outside the territorial sea but within the New Zealand EEZ.

Although the Marine Reserves Act 1971 is unable to protect deepwater benthic habitat, the purpose provision of the Fisheries Act 1996, proved to be helpful in this regard. The purpose of the Act (s 8) is to:

“… provide for the utilisation of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability. In this Act ensuring sustainability means (a) mainatining the potential of fisheries resources to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and (b) avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects of fishing on the aquatic environment. Utilisation means conserving, enhancing, and developing fisheries resources to enable people to provide for social, economic, and cultural well-being.”

While defining an “adverse effect” is complicated, avoiding them can be arguably less so. So in keeping with the purpose of the Fisheries Act 1996, almost a third of New Zealand’s entire EEZ was closed to bottom trawling in order to protect deepwater benthic habitats where biota maybe more fragile, slow growing and have long regeneration times. The rationale behind these closures is that given the sensitivity of some of these benthic habitats and the species within, avoiding a defined area altogether and utilising another portion of the same type of area, protects representative biodiversity better than having all areas open to potential utilisation.

It is for this reason that the Deepwater Group (a company that represents approximately 95% of the quota owned in New Zealand’s deepwater and middle-depths fisheries) first approached government in late 2005 with a marine protection initiative to address the environmental concerns over bottom trawling (Helson et al. (2010)). Yes, you are reading correctly, the New Zealand fishing industry drove the BPA initiative.

In response, the the Minister of Fisheries requested that DWG amend its BPA proposal to ensure greater representation of depth, substrate type, oceanographic conditions, geographic location, and to ensure closures were located to encompass sufficient latitudinal and longitudinal variation. The Ministry of Fisheries then consulted the New Zealand public, and as a result of this public consultation three new BPAs, 10 active hydrothermal vents, and and 35 underwater topographical features (UTFs), which included 10 seamounts, were added to the proposal (Helson et al. (2010)).

Existing marine management tools in New Zealand’s waters. (Source: Ministry of Agricuture, Forestry and Fisheries (NABIS); Ministry for the Environment).                    Note: New Zealand’s EEZ is 4,083,744 km2. This figure is for the EEZ of New Zealand proper, and do not include the EEZs of other territories in the Realm of New Zealand (Tokelau, Niue, the Cook Islands and the Ross Dependency).

BPAs which close large representative areas of the seabed to bottom trawl fishing methods, including dredging, in perpetuity, house 88% of all known active hydrothermal vents, 52% of all known seamounts and protect the benthic biodiversity of about 1.3 million km2 of seabed—over a third of New Zealand’s EEZ and more than four times the area of New Zealand itself (Helson et al. (2010)).

This benthic protection initiative which forms one of the largest networks of protected marine habitats in the world for the express purpose of protecting the biodiversity of benthic communities at the broad ecosystems, is unequalled anywhere else in the world.

So I am not too sure what Sophie Barclay was saying when she wrote that only 7% of our waters are protected – when actually the protection afforded New Zealand’s marine biodiversity is more like an unrivalled ~34% of the entire EEZ. Furthermore this 34% preserves the biodiversity of some incredible areas including (but not limited to) the entire Kermadec area of the EEZ (some 620,000 km2), the Tectonic Ridge area, the area around the Antipodes Islands and the Bollons Guyot, and the area of Sub-Antarctic that is adjacent to Australia’s MacQuarrie Island.

I suppose my point here is that we New Zealander’s can’t always blindly push push push, we have to enjoy what we have achieved on occasion. I am proud of the BPA initiative. They are ingenious really. To me they represent a ‘can do’ Kiwi No. 8 wire approach to as a reponse to a real need, within a complicated and restrictive marine biodiversity protection legislative framework. And whats more they are effective. Benthic biodiversity is completely protected and the sustaianble utilisation of pelagic species is not precluded.

Tectonic Reach BPA (13,700 km2)

Kermadec BPA (620,000 km2)

Antipodes Transect BPA (108,200 km2)

Fiordland BPA (40,600 km2)

Sub-Anatrctic BPA (98,400 km2)

One thought on ““Dear Pessimist, Optimist and Realist – while you were arguing we implemented BPAs – Regards Opportunist”

  1. Pingback: Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why? | Green Fish Blue Fish

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