Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?

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I have noticed that MPA (Marine Protected Area) debate has started to resurface again. In the last month I’ve seen two articles in mainstream media, that are either advocating less intensive marine protection status on already in place protected areas, or advocating more intensive protection on existing areas and the creation of new marine protected areas.

Jay Harkness (New Zealand) Forest & Bird wrote an opinion piece in Today’s (26 Mar 2013) Dominion Post claiming that New Zealand marine reserves [are] too small; however he also used this opinion piece to make other outrageous claims:

[…] Dr [Nick] Smith [Minister of Conservation] proclaimed that the addition of the new reserves would double the area protected by mainland reserves. But what he did not mention is that none of the new reserves, if given the final sign-off by his colleagues, are big enough or deep enough to include an entire ecosystem.

One reserve covers just 16 hectares. As every animal in an ecosystem relies on every other animal in that ecosystem, to some extent at least, the proposals are seriously flawed. Dr Smith also did not mention how little of New Zealand’s territorial and economic sea areas are set aside for nature alone, especially given how many New Zealanders spend a lot of their free time fishing, and how many of us earn a living from fishing or tourism.

A Colmar Brunton poll once asked a sample of New Zealanders how much of this country’s territorial and economic waters they thought were protected by marine reserves. The averaged answer was 30 per cent. The averaged figure for how much area should be protected by reserves was 36 per cent – more than a third.

The survey group got it dramatically wrong. Their mistake may have stemmed from the relatively well-known fact that a third of New Zealand’s land area is managed for conservation purposes. Only 0.3 per cent of the total marine area this country is responsible for is protected. This will increase, by a tiny tenth of a per cent, once some gazetted reserves around the Sub-Antarctic Islands pass into law.

I cannot believe that this sort of advocacy that (obviously intentionally) misrepresents facts makes it into mainstream media. But it does. Often given pride of place. Harkness is horribly wrong  and inaccurate here.

According to Harkness:

Their [the people who took the Colmar Brunton poll] mistake may have stemmed from the relatively well-known fact that a third of New Zealand’s land area is managed for conservation purposes. Only 0.3 per cent of the total marine area this country is responsible for is protected.” 

WOW! … And then he then asserts:

Forest & Bird is calling for at least 30 per cent of New Zealand’s territorial and economic waters to be protected.

I am flabbergasted!

Countering Harkness’s Misrepresentations

To address Harrkness’s misrepresentations, I am going to include four things in this blog piece that will allow you all to make up your own mind as to whether or not New Zealand affords adequate [ at least 30%] protection to its marine area:

  1. I am going to breakdown the nature of the protections offered a third of New Zealand’s land area and show the myriad differences in conservation protections afforded that land;
  2. I am going to quickly list the main threats to the New Zealand EEZ and Extended Continental Shelf (the marine area outside our Territorial Sea);
  3. I am going to include a map that shows areas (other than marine reserves) which occur outside the Territorial Sea (12 nm); and
  4. I am going to  show the differences in conservation status/protection afforded each protected area, and then list the legislative and regulatory provisions [in a figure] that show that these protections are real and have the force of law.
(1) Legally protected conservation land in New Zealand (Ministry for the Environment, Department of Conservation)

The Ministry for the Environment says:

As of July 2009, 8,763,300 hectares (ha) of New Zealand’s land (or 33.4 per cent) was legally protected for the primary purpose of conserving biodiversity. Between 2006 and 2009, the legally protected area of the most threatened environments (ie, National Priority 1 environments) increased by 3300 ha or 3.4 per cent. Out of all the OECD countries, New Zealand has the highest proportion of its land area protected for conservation purposes.

This is very misleading – because although ‘33.4% may be legally protected for the ‘purposes of biodiversity protection‘; the level of protection varies according to the land status. Furthermore some of these protected areas occur on Maori land or private land.

Map of conservation land in New Zealand. Source. DOC

Map of conservation land in New Zealand. Source. DOC

This map shows three different levels of protection afforded publicly owned conservation land.

  • The red areas (National Parks): There are 14 national parks (just under 25,000 km2 or 9.5% of New Zealand’s land mass ) which are are afforded the greatest protection in New Zealand under the National Parks Act 1980, which also provides for their establishment based on scenery being of distinctive quality, or the natural features or ecological systems so important scientifically that their preservation is in the national interest. The act states that national parks are to be maintained as far as possible in their natural state so that their value as soil, water and forest conservation areas is maintained. The act provides for their administration by the Department of Conservation.
  • The green areas (Conservation and Forest Parks): 20 forest parks (approximately 18,000 km2 or 7% of New Zealand’s land mass). The Department of Conservation administers 20 forest parks whose primary purpose, in most cases, is to protect the catchments of forested mountain ranges throughout the country. Forest parks have a less stringent level of protection than National Parks and they are used for a wide variety of recreational and commercial activities, including tramping, camping, fishing, and shooting for a variety of game.
  • The orange areas (land administered by DOC); This land includes around 3,500 reserves (approximately 15,000 km2 or 5.5% of New Zealand’s land mass) and some (around 610 km2 or 0.25% of New Zealand’s land mass) of protected private land and covenants that has been set aside. Reserve land includes scenic, nature, scientific, historic, national, recreation and wildlife reserves, protected private land and land protected under various conservation and open space covenants. This land is afforded variable protection, with some of the protections being somewhat robust (e.g.offshore island reserves) and others being very minimal indeed (e.g. covenants).

Simply. The protections afforded DOC administered land in New Zealand are extremely variable with some protection being merely DOC administration. With arguably only around 10-12% of our entire landmass being afforded the highest biodiversity protections possible. Which is commendable.

It is my opinion that affording all publicly owned land National Park type protection would not be wise. Locking up potential resources as a result environmentally driven policy could potential have adverse social and economic effects. It makes sense that it one’s objective is to protect the biodiversity of a forested area, affording that area forest reserve status would meet that objective. Providing more protection than is required is not sound management.

Notwithstanding the variable conservation protections affording all publicly owned land in New Zealand, all of the land is designated by the Ministry for the Environment and DOC as Legally protected conservation land.

Surely the same ‘horses for courses’ conceptual framework ought to drive marine spatial policy as well?

(2)  The main threats to the New Zealand EEZ and Extended Continental Shelf (the marine area outside our Territorial Sea)

A recent assessment of anthropogenic threats to New Zealand marine habitats published by the Ministry for Primary Industries (2012) found that:

[Although] [t]he effects of fishing on fish stocks and other components of the ecosystem are increasingly coming under scrutiny, […] fishing is only one effect that humans have on marine ecosystems […]

[The] study indicates that generally, the number of threats to New Zealand’s marine habitats  declines with depth, particularly below mean depths of about 50 m. Shallow coastal habitats are impacted by up to fifty-two non-trivial threats deriving from human activities, while deep water habitats are threatened by as few as two or three. Likewise, the estimated magnitude or severity of those effects declines steeply with mean depth of the habitat.

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Number of Fisheries catch events for commercial marine species in New Zealand’s EEZ, October 1989–February 2009. (source MPI)

However a reading of Hansard shows that the Government is aware of other impending threats to the EEZ and extended continental shelf.

During the first reading of the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill – Nick Smith [the current Minister of Conservation] tells the house that:

This legislation [Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill] will manage the adverse environmental effects of activities in the exclusive economic zone, which are currently unregulated. That includes the construction of petroleum platforms, seabed mining, possible aquaculture developments, carbon capture and storage, marine farming, and energy generation proposals that may evolve.

Very simply, the assessment of anthropogenic threats to New Zealand marine habitats found of all the activities that take place in the deepwater within the EEZ outside the 12 nm territorial sea, the most significant threats to deep habitats are:

  • Bottom Trawling
  • Dredging
  • Turbidity – Increases in turbidity may arise from a variety of causes including mining, and drilling

Other than these three threats to the deepwater benthic environment, depth and remoteness make the risk of any adverse effects as a result of any other activities remote.

It follows then that any set of management measures that can control the anthropogenic threats to deep water Marine Habitats listed above, will provide sufficient protection to benthic biodiversity.

(3) Various Protected Areas (other than marine reserves) that occur outside the territorial Sea.

Currently inside the Territorial Sea there are more than 30 marine protected areas established in New Zealand waters. All are “no take” areas, administered by the Department of Conservation. They range in size from about 250 ha (within a harbour) to 745,000 ha (7,450 km2) (at the Kermadec Islands).

Collectively, these marine reserves protect 7.6% of New Zealand’s territorial sea; however, 99% of this area is in two marine reserves around isolated offshore island groups (Auckland and Kermadec), and the sum of the areas of the remaining reserves in the mainland territorial sea is less than the area of the smallest terrestrial national park.

However, currently, outside the territorial sea the highest level of protection is through fisheries closures of trawling on 19 seamounts, initiated in 2001 (see map below). Additionally, in 2007, the New Zealand government established 17 Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs) in waters outside the territorial sea; these protect about 31% of representative seabed biodiversity in the EEZ from deep-sea bottom trawling and dredging activity (see map below).

New Zealand’s Territorial Sea, EEZ and the BPAs and Seamount Closures within it (Adapted from 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).

New Zealand’s Territorial Sea, EEZ and the BPAs and Seamount Closures within it (Source: Deepwater Group.org; Also see from 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).

All of these protections protect over 34% of  the New Zealand Extended continental shelf and its associated biodiversity.

(4)  Differences in conservation status afforded each protected area, and then list the legislative and regulatory provisions that show that these protections have the force of law

BPAs came about as a result of a collaboration between 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. BPAs address this problem.

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.

Together Seamount Closures and BPAs which close large representative areas of the seabed to bottom trawl fishing methods, including dredging, in perpetuity (an in teh case of seamount closures prohibit all trawling or seabed activity), house 88% of all known active hydrothermal vents, 35 underwater topographical features (UTFs) 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 (see Helson et al. (2010) Private rights, public benefits: Industry-driven seabed protection).

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 why my friend Harkness was saying when he wrote that “Only 0.3 per cent of the total marine area this country is responsible for is 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.

Existing marine management tools in New Zealand’s waters. (Source: Ministry for Primary Industries (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)

Existing marine management tools in New Zealand’s waters. (Source: Ministry for Primary Industries (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)

What’s my Point?

I suppose my point here is that we New Zealander’s can’t always blindly push push push. But sometimes we also have to stop and enjoy what we have achieved.

I am proud of the Seamount Closures, the BPA initiative and even the impending EEZ Bill that will formulate a management regime forthe EEZ and extended continental shelf. They are ingenious responses to an overwhelmingly colossal challenge (NZ has the 5th largest EEZ/Extended continental shelf in the World). To me they represent a ‘can do’ kiwi ‘no. 8 wire’ type response to a real need. And what’s more they are effective. They successfully protect benthic biodiversity while still providing for the sustainable utilisation of pelagic species.

Why do we need to do as Jay Harkness suggests and afford National Park like protections across the board all over the New Zealand marine environment? What is the utility of locking up the BPAs as no take zones? Why? What is the point when Seamount Closures have demonstrated that they provide robust protections to areas of ecological and geographical significance; and where  BPAs have demonstrated that they are a more than adequate response to the identified threats to benthic biodiversity as a result of deepwater activities?

Surely locking up huge areas of the marine environment for no real perceptible purpose, is nothing more than an exercise in  peanut polishing?

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3 thoughts on “Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?

  1. Pingback: New Zealand Fisheries: Most fish stocks in a healthy state! | Green Fish Blue Fish

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  3. Pingback: Marine Reserves: Extending New Zealand’s Marine Reserves for the purpose of fish stocks protection is misguided! | Green Fish Blue Fish

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