Thumbs Up for President Obama who Announces Plan to Protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay From Future Oil and Gas Drilling!!!

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In a White house press release and video message posted online, President Obama announced his plan to designate Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing, exploration and drilling — an action that will safeguard waters that help provide 40 percent of USA’s wild-caught seafood, support a $2 billion annual fishing industry, and are vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.

In a Press release by the white house…

President Obama designated the pristine waters of Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing.  This action safeguards one of the nation’s most productive fisheries and preserves an ecologically rich area of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska that is vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.”

Using his executive powers Obama proclamated (see Youtube clip):

Under Authority granted me in Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 USC 1341(a), this withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any oil or gas leasing for purposes of exploration, development or production.”

According to the Whitehouse Press release:

Bristol Bay is at the heart one of the world’s most valuable fisheries, helping to provide 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood and support a $2 billion annual fishing industry.  The beautiful and remote area is also an economic engine for tourism in Alaska, driving $100 million in recreational fishing and tourism activity every year. Bristol Bay hosts the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon in the world, and provides important habitat for many species, including the threatened Stellar’s eider, sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale. 

Today’s decision to withdraw the area from all future oil and gas leasing extends indefinitely a temporary withdrawal that President Obama issued in 2010 and was set to expire in 2017.  This action builds on decades of local efforts to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development by Alaska Native tribes and organizations, as well as local seafood and tourism businesses that create jobs and strengthen Alaska and the nation’s economy. It also honors the legacy of Alaska residents like Harold ‘Harvey’ Samuelsen, a salmon fisherman who is legendary for his lifelong dedication to Bristol Bay and to creating economic opportunities for Alaska Native and rural communities.

The North Aleutian Basin Planning Area that includes Bristol Bay consists of approximately 32.5 million acres, a portion of which was leased in the mid-1980s but never developed due to litigation.  The previous Administration set in motion a new lease sale for 2011 that would have opened approximately 5.6 million acres – about one-fifth of the planning area – for drilling.

In 2010, President Obama temporarily withdrew the Bristol Bay area from oil and gas development, exercising his authority under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives the President authority to withdraw offshore areas from potential oil and gas leasing. President Eisenhower was the first to exercise the authority in 1960, withdrawing an area now included in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Since then, Presidents on both sides of the aisle have acted to withdraw areas of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act of 1953, the Department of the Interior develops a new leasing program every five years for energy development in federal offshore waters.

The current Five Year Program for 2012–2017, which expires in August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas with the greatest resource potential, including more than 75 percent of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently developing the 2017-2022 program, which includes opportunities for public comment.

Map Showing Area of Bristol bay, Alaska being protected by Obama's Proclamation (Source: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/collections/protecting-bristol-bay)

Map Showing Area of Bristol bay, Alaska being protected by Obama’s Proclamation (Source: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/collections/protecting-bristol-bay)

Culmination of Years of Campaigning by eNGOs, Fishers and other organisation

This Action by the US President must have come as GIGANTIC relief for a multitude of campaigners that have been working hard for years, trying to ensure the protection of this pristine wilderness area.

Bristol Bay Wilderness: (Source: http://pool32mag.blogspot.com.au/2010/05/save-bristol-bay-from-threatening_1016.html Photo: Erin McKittrick)

Bristol Bay Wilderness: (Source: http://pool32mag.blogspot.com.au/2010/05/save-bristol-bay-from-threatening_1016.html Photo: Erin McKittrick)

For more information about Bristol Bay

New Zealand TV3 reports a “vicious disease killing NZ’s sea lions”

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Last night New Zealand TV (TV3) reported that the presence of a “vicious disease killing around 600 New Zealand sea lions per year

TV3 also reported a statement by Deepwater Group that:

New technology has reduced the number of deaths caused by fishing nets by 90 percent, to 15 adult sea lions a year.”

Further adding that the focus now needs to turn to securing the lives of those [New Zealand Sea Lions] on land and it’s keen to work with the Government, George Clement (CEO of Deepwater Group) made the statement:

If you were on a sheep farm and a lot of your lambs were dying before they became productive, you’d look at dosing them for parasites and giving antibiotics. On teh face of it, it is no more complicated than that.”

When solutions are this simple… surely we just have to get out there and implement them…. don’t we?

The Deepwater Group says a bacterial disease is killing more than 600 pups a year in the Auckland Islands. Source: TV3 Click on above picture to play video at www.scoop.co.nz

The Deepwater Group says a bacterial disease is killing more than 600 pups a year in the Auckland Islands. Source: TV3. Click on above picture to play video at http://www.scoop.co.nz

For more information please see the following Greenfish Bluefish posts:

Maui’s Dolphins: Rather than pointing fingers, let’s negotiate the polemic and point the way forward

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I been following the Plight of the New Zealand Maui’s dolphin here at GfBf:

Background

According to the Department of Conservation (DOC):

Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui)[is the world’s smallest dolphin and is found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. It is New Zealand’s rarest dolphin […] with a DOC-commissioned 2012 study estimated the Maui’s dolphin population to consist of 55 with a 95% confidence interval of between 48 to 69.”

For some the jury is still out on whether Maui’s dolphins constitutes a new species, a sub-species, or simply an extant population isolated from the other more common South Island Hector’s dolphins. For others that distinction is irrelevant.

In short the Maui’s dolphin is on the precipice of extinction. And worse still, in a country that prides itself on its effective, pro-active and precautionary environmental management.  Somehow the Maui’s dolphin has fallen through the cracks, and now it has got to the point that if something is not done… New Zealand will face the unthinkable…

Yet in this climate of catastrophe a maelstrom of accusations, finger pointing and emotive tit for tat is blocking any progress:

  • Cetacean scientists are blaming the fishermen who they say are 95% responsible for the decline;
  • The Government is concerned with the fusing of scientific evidence and eNGO advocacy and the lack of objective science;
  • The Media is publicly trying Taranaki fishermen and making claims that the Government is not doing enough;
  • The Government is countering with spatial closures of virtually the entire West Coast of the North Island; & lastly
  • The Fishermen who are wearing it all are claiming that they do not catch Maui’s dolphins and that the measures imposed by the Government are unduly arduous.

What a Cacophony!

In earlier pasts we have had a hard look at the science, have looked at the nature and extent of the interactions between Maui’s dolphins and fishing vessels and have looked at the records of Maui’s dolphin mortalities. None of this analysis has provided any clarity… Not really, all that it has really done is increased opacity and provided additional uncertainty to fuel debate.

There simply is no time for that, is there?

  • Sure Fishermen can wear some blame. They have interacted with dolphins, very occasionally. Unfortunately, risk is irreversibly linked to potential adverse outcomes… and the potential adverse outcome of one or two Maui’s dolphin mortalities in a population of 55 is very significant;
  • Sure the quality of the science is poor, and most of the scientific and technical personnel who should be providing objective advice to Government and Marine Managers are in bed with eNGOs advocating an end to fishing, marine mammal sanctuaries that comprise most of New Zealand’s coastal waters and other management measures;
  • Sure the Media’s coverage which is anti-fishermen, anti-Government and pro- scientific advocacy has skewed the debate and lead to national outrage and outpourings of emotion, this leads to more interest, and sells more papers;
  • Sure politicians are using the Maui’s debate to score political points, and the Government (which has the ability to impose a plethora of interventions) has instead dragged their feet, limiting management responses to spatial closures. This approach has had no effect on the population decline and has had a monumental adverse impact of the West Coast North Island Seafood Industry.

THIS FIASCO has created a culture of mistrust, which is the opposite of what is needed.

To save the Maui’s dolphin, we all need to sing from the same song sheet. We need to put aside egos, the point scoring. We have to stop saying “I am right way and your arewrong!”. We need to leave the science to the scientists, and the management to the managers. Personalities and perceptions of expertise have to be seen in context, and considered irrelevant outside that context … If Maui’s are to have a chance we have to do all of that and more.

Most of all we need to act … In unison

Hector’s dolphins have a unique rounded dorsal fin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The solution is clear!

I hate to be one of those people who rely on movies to provide relevant epistemology, but in my search to provide rationale for my belief that there must be a solution to the Maui’s dolphin cacophony, I seem to be unable to shake the image of the Merovingian on the Matrix Reloaded (2003) extolling his ‘one constant’ that there is:

“…One universal. It is the only real truth. Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.”

But he may be right. If there is a problem there must be a solution.

A very well respected person from the Seafood Industry sent me a three pronged solution (below) that really must be shared. It is so simple, yet I am not surprised that such an ease of solution was overlooked, given the present status of the Maui’s dolphin fiasco:

  1. Get in there and intervene as soon as possible, and remove some animals from the wild for breeding
  2. Collaborate and objectively assess situation to find drivers of the decline and their solutions
  3. Negotiate the polemic… and meet the real objective which is to save the dolphins

1) Intervention

Maui’s dolphins are in trouble and the New Zealand Government is not doing enough to halt the trajectory towards their extinction.  Removing every fishing boat from the vicinity of Maui’s dolphin habitat will not halt the decline. It is past that now. It is time for intervention.

The plight of the Maui’s Dolphin is now no different from that of the Chatham Islands Black Robin (Petroica traversi), the American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) & Koala (Phascolarctos cinereu), which were all at one time also on the brink of extinction. For example the Californian Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) which had became extinct in the wild in 1987 had a population of just 22 individuals. It is estimated that there are now around 450 birds. So just as active intervention saved the black robin and the Californian condor from extinction, intervention is needed to save the Maui’s dolphin Just like what was done for the black robin and the kakapo (Strigops habroptila), some Maui’s dolphins need to be removed from the wild and breed to increase numbers (setting  aside genetic material for future should also be undertaken).

The Seafood Industry could lead this. After all the New Zealand Seafood industry has no shortage of innovative individuals who have the ‘get up and go’ that is needed to implement such an innovative initiative.

Maybe I am overly and naively optimistic… but I honestly believe that the New Zealand public and maybe even the Government (once they realise they are on a winner) would get in behind such a Seafood Industry lead initiative. The New Zealand public are good at getting behind good causes. Look at Peter Blake’s Red Socks (and he wasn’t saving a threatened species).

2) Find drivers behind the decline and the solutions

Despite what rhetoric is sold by the media, (risk aside) increased fishery observation, and mandatory reporting have demonstrated that fishing attributed mortalities are not the main threat to Maui’s dolphins, nor is fishing the primary threat to Maui’s survival. This much is clear.

So what is the main driver behind the decline? Is it environmental degradation of coastal waters? changes in the availability of their diet? disease? No-one knows for certain.

We need to get to the bottom of it.

We need to undertake an objective and independent expert review to establish the risks to the Maui’s dolphin population and to propose solutions.

The Government should drive this. They should cast the net as widely as they can, and seek expertise from wherever it can be found.  They should engage with interested parties from all corners of New Zealand, and seek international expertise.

3) Negotiate the polemic

For any assessment of the plight of Maui’s dolphins to be effective, it has to be based on the best available scientific/technical information. Assessment needs to be driven on facts and not emotion.

In order to make any progress and meet the undisputed objective (which is to save the dolphins) we need to assert interests and not positions.

Is pointing scoring, punishing, blaming and finger pointing meeting our objective, and saving the dolphins. You’d think with the amount of it going on that it is.

My last word is this…. Save the Dolphins

Maui’s Dolphin Population Status: giving facts a helping hand – a Guest post by Hasile

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GFBF’s guest poster Hasile is very interested in the plight of the New Zealand Maui’s dolphin, of which there are an estimated 55 individuals left.

For some the jury is still out on whether Maui’s dolphins constitute a new species, a sub-species, or simply an extant population isolated from the other more common South Island Hector’s dolphins. For others whether or not the Maui’s population constitutes a distinct species is an irrelevant consideration… It is accepted by all that the population is distinct, and it is critically endangered to the point where extinction is imminent if something drastic is not done.

According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC):

Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori mauiis the world’s smallest dolphin and is found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. It is New Zealand’s rarest dolphin […]

In 2012 a DOC-commissioned study estimated the Maui’s dolphin population to consist of 55 with a 95% confidence interval of between 48 to 69. The estimate is for individuals aged more than 1 year (i.e. this excludes calves of under a year). This small population of dolphins is thought to have been isolated from their more-numerous relatives, South Island Hector’s dolphin, for thousands of years. Maui’s dolphin used to be known as North Island Hector’s dolphin. But research showed the North and South Island dolphins are separate sub-species that are physically and genetically distinct from each other.”

However like so many critical situations the search consensus on a way forward with respect to saving the Maui’s dolphin has been hindered, by politics, finger-pointing, and mistrust. I highlighted in a previous post in April last year (Maui’s Dolphins: Swimming in a sea of all sorts of mischief?) that the plight of the Maui’s dolphin has seen

“...sustained pressure on the Government by eNGOs,the Media, the public and of course opposition politicians who are  using the campaign as leverage to garner political points at the expense of the Government. This pressure has been squarely placed on the Commercial Fishing Industry, who beset on all sides by sectors pointing accusatory fingers, protest their perceived culpability.”

Often the campaign has been theatrical… There was even a funeral march in 2012… where protestors marched through the Auckland Electorate of  Kumeu-Huapai to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s electorate office in Helensville demanding urgent action to save the Maui’s dolphin. The Rodney Times reported that the “mourners” included Rodney Labour candidate and former Rodney and Auckland Regional Council representative Christine Rose of Huapai who has long used the issue of protection of the critically endangered dolphin as political leverage.

According to Hasile central figures have manipulated scientific data for the purpose of controlling the debate. In an Article (below) sent to GFBF in December 2012 Hasile charters the statistical drift of the Maui’s dolphin scientific information.

A visual education tool about the state of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin and fishing-related threat management options currently under review by the NZ Ministry of Primary Resources.  Source: http://dumpark.com/mauis/

A visual education tool about the state of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin and fishing-related threat management options currently under review by the NZ Ministry of Primary Resources. CLICK TO VIEW EDUCATION TOOL. Source: http://dumpark.com/mauis/

A Case of Giving Facts on Maui’s Dolphin a Helping Hand (by Hasile)

Cephalorhynchus hectori. Photograph by James Shook. Source: Wiki Commons

Cephalorhynchus hectori. Photograph by James Shook.
Source: Wiki Commons

Increasingly, as technology becomes more sophisticated, reliable and adaptable, the terms of access to natural resources should be ideally based on robust and coherent science on the effects of that extraction. 

Unfortunately, there is an apparent trend, based variously on academic niche and security, international scientific status, ideological attitudes to humanity’s place on the planet, the need to simplify and generalise for popular opinion and a central belief that commercial use of any and every resource inevitably leads to its overexploitation and environmental degradation.

This trend can lead to scientific literature which is less reliable than it ought to be.

The Background of Otago University’s Liz Slooten

Dr. Liz Slooten, an Otago University professor of Zoology, called for greater supervision aboard trawling boats. “The numbers of observers on the boats are far too low.” Source: See http://www.newswire.co.nz/2012/04/protesters-demand-end-to-gill-net-killing-of-maui-dolphins/

An article in Endangered Species Research by Elisabeth Slooten could be a case where factors have led to a mismatch of the empirical data with the conclusions reached.  Dr Slooten argues that data shows what is unquestionably a severely endangered animal sub-species is not only under threat from fishing activities, but that threat has increased over the years, rather than diminished.

Dr Slooten has devoted most of her professional life to the study of Hector’s dolphins.  It is no exaggeration that she was traumatised seeing the effects on the Hector’s dolphins of the introduction of monofilament nets some decades ago.

The 1 August 2012 issue of Life and Leisure retells, in almost folk lore terms, how she spent half of 1984 on a VW Kombi van tour of the South Island coast in search of Hector’s dolphins with Steve Dawson.  She is quoted at her first sight of a Hector’s as, “A sort of ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’ moment.”

Dr Slooten is an Associate Professor in the Zoology Department at Otago University and is described by the University as ‘the foremost authority’ on Hector’s (Cephalorhynchus hectori) and Maui’s subspecies (C. hectori maui).’ She teaches ecology, statistics, risk analysis and a MSc course on marine mammals. She and Dr Dawson have supervised several MSc and PhD projects on the species. They have published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

In 1992, Drs Slooten and Dawson launched the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust for research and conservation. In 2004, they were awarded the Royal Society’s Sir Charles Fleming Award for their contribution to conservation science.

The University of Otago website states Dr Slooten ‘represents New Zealand at the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission’ and that she, and Dr Dawson, are ‘members of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group and regularly advise government.’

Dr Slooten predicts an international trade boycott of New Zealand seafood products, if the restrictions on fishing in what she claims are Maui’s dolphin sub-species habitats, are not increased.  In the Taranaki Daily News on 17th July 2012 she said,

Logically it doesn’t make sense for people to boycott hoki, for instance, because dolphins aren’t being killed in the hoki industry but that is the next step.  Do we want to be seen as dolphin killers overseas?

She also told BBCNews on 10th June 2013;

If Maui’s dolphins went extinct that would be very bad in terms of our international reputation.  Obviously New Zealand is known as a clean green country and that reputation is very important to exports, to tourism and in general to our international reputation.

Dr Slooten has written and expressed views on sea mammals other than dolphins. The Final Advice Paper on New Zealand Sea Lions by DOC and MPI in 2012, was critical of Dr Slooten’s suggestions for measuring the frequency of sea lion captures in Sea Lion Escape Devices by blocking their escape, stating;

 The Ministry does not support the proposal advanced by Elisabeth Slooten to cover the escape hole of SLEDs. This would need to be conducted over several years to get a robust estimate of strike rate and would result in deliberate drowning of sea lions.

In April 2013, Otago University Press published Drs Slooten and Dawson’s book, Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand DolphinThis book is a dolphin watcher’s handbook, complete with photos of Hector’s Dolphins at Banks Peninsular, which she named ‘Zorro’, Huffer’, Biggus Nickus’ and ‘Rooster’.

In December 2013 Dr Slooten chaired the Organising Committee of the 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, which was hosted by Otago University.  These conferences are rarely held outside North America. Dr Dawson chaired the Scientific Programme Committee and Dr Slooten was also on that committee. Dr. Slooten and Dawson delivered a keynote presentation on the conference opening morning, ‘A flagship of NZ conservation is foundering’.

Dolphin Reproduction Research

Cover of Raewyn Peart's 2013 book 'The Dolphins of Aotearoa' Source: http://beattiesbookblog.blogspot.co.nz/2013/11/dolphins-of-aotearoa.html

Cover of Raewyn Peart’s 2013 book ‘The Dolphins of Aotearoa’
Source: http://beattiesbookblog.blogspot.co.nz/2013/11/dolphins-of-aotearoa.html

The Otago University promotion of ‘Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand Dolphin’ stated that Dr Slooten ‘researches and publishes on reproductive and population biology…’

A review of Dr Slooten’s papers on Hector’s type dolphins, as listed by Otago University on its website, nonetheless does not reveal publications exhibiting this expertise in any but a most limited sense.  This work, listed as published since 2006, is confined to various forms of observation which avoids actual or protracted contact with the dolphins.

The limits to what is acceptable and relevant science on Hector’s dolphin in New Zealand appear to have thus been set by its most prominent researcher.  For example, in ‘Dolphins Down Under’ (page 63) Dr Slooten objects to satellite tagging Hector’s type dolphins, on the basis that such attaching such tags would alter their behaviour and also would endanger the dolphins. She added that such tagging was unnecessary anyway, given that that she knows and can recognise all of the Hector’s dolphins around Banks Peninsular.

In Raewyn Peart’s 2013 book ‘Dolphins of Aotearoa’ she writes (page 254) that Drs Slooten and Dawson in 2003 opposed the use of satellite tags on Maui’s since it was ‘intrusive’.

The only exception to non-intrusive observation research currently into the Hector’s species in New Zealand is laboratory analysis of the DNA composition of individuals of the species, with skin samples being darted off the dolphins.  The lure of producing interesting pie graphs in learned papers on genetic variation among the Hectors and Maui’s, was obviously too much, even for Dr Slooten to prevent.

The DNA work by itself has some interest in establishing; individual identification, whether Hector’s and Maui’s breed, population spread or whether there is sufficient genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding depression.  The work though is largely of academic interest and has, at best, a marginal utility of actually being used to protect the species from decline or extinction.

Investigations into the nature, identification and duration of Hector’s dolphin oestrus for example, which would be a vital precursor to assisted reproduction of Maui’s dolphins, have not been carried out. The viewpoint of New Zealand’s announced foremost expert on such dolphins, is that such research is neither necessary nor acceptable.

Indeed Dr Barbara Maas, the London based Head of International Species for NABU International, mocked the idea of assisted reproduction in her presentation on Hector’s type dolphins at the Marine Mammal Conference in Dunedin, though she provided neither reasons nor basis for her derision.

DNA Evidence of Distribution

In the Taranaki Daily News on 20th July 2012, Liz Slooten, wrote that the southernmost confirmed sighting of a Maui’s dolphin was one from which a biopsy sample was taken in Wellington Harbour.

Ten days later, on 30th July, Scott Gallacher, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries, replied in the same publication, writing  that there were claims made by ‘some commentators’,  about Maui’s dolphins that were ‘misleading or incorrect’. He referred to the Wellington biopsy sample and pointed out,

The only biopsy sample taken from a dolphin in Wellington Harbour was that of a Hector’s, and that happened in 2009.”

Indeed Dr Slooten is justified in acknowledging the existence of such biopsy samples – there is even a Maui’s sample taken in Wellington which may have been collected  back in 1873.

Fishing and Dolphins

Fishing Vessels docked at the Tauranga Waterfront, New Zealand. Source QFSE Media, Wiki Commons

Fishing Vessels docked at the Tauranga Waterfront, New Zealand. Source QFSE Media, Wiki Commons

In the Endangered Species Research article Dr Slooten analyses the efficacy of restrictions on fishing on the three populations of Hector’s dolphins Cephalorhynchus hectori in South Island waters and that of the Maui’s subspecies C. hectori maui which inhabits an indeterminate range (albeit with a well-known core) in the waters off the west coast of the North Island.

Dr Slooten refers to the Maui’s habitat as WCNI (West Coast North Island).  Four of South Island originating Hector’s, two alive and two dead, have been identified in recent years within the Maui’s population in West Coast North Island (WCNI).  Thus Cephalorhynchus found off the West Coast of the North Island are not all Maui’s.

Marine Mammal Sanctuaries. The marine mammal sanctuaries layer has been updated to include the marine mammal sanctuaries (as they were legislated in October 2008).

Marine Mammal Sanctuaries. The marine mammal sanctuaries layer has been updated to include the marine mammal sanctuaries (as they were legislated in October 2008).

Dr Slooten’s position is clear.  She states that she believes that “bycatch in fisheries is the most serious threat to both species, (sic) …

However her views on the efficacy of banning fishing, to save Maui’s from extinction, are ambivalent.  She was cited, 30, April 2012, as stating,

…natural processes could take them away. If we stopped catching them in fishing nets tomorrow we would still hold our breath … so we really need to pull out all the stops or soon we’ll go past the point of no return.”

She details the introduction of various targeted fishing area restriction measures in the years since 1988 and finds favour with the results.  But she still asserts that the overall New Zealand Cephalorhynchus population is in decline. In relation to by catch of Hector’s species in the period since 2008, she states,

Formal and informal reports from the fishing industry include NZ dolphin deaths on the SCSI and WCNI”.

This implies a plural culpability in both areas.

According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) Hector’s dolphin incident database; in which any formal report would be displayed, there have been five Hector’s type dolphins found and examined in the period since 2008 on the West Coast of the North Island (WCNI).  The post mortems for four of the dolphins describe no indications of fishing being the cause of death.  There is only one fatality attributed to fishing recorded – that of the Hector’s type taken by fisherman Ian McDougall off Cape Egmont in January 2012.

So the Slooten statement, based on one capture, is technically correct.  There has been one formal report of a Hector’s type dolphin killed by fishing in the WCNI since 2008.

In ‘Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand Dolphin’ (page 70) Dr Slooten’s inclination to expand a singular event into a whole series of occurrences can be seen when she states that there have been recent ‘sightings and deaths in gillnets off the Taranaki coastline’.  There certainly have been many sightings along this coast, and other coasts.  DOC encourages these reports.

But [one fact remains], other than the one in 2012, there have been no mortalities which could be [directly] attributed to fishing recorded in Taranaki waters for nearly a quarter of a century.

Use of DoC Data on Fishing Induced Mortality Maui’s Dolphins

Maui's dolphin extinction scenario - Under current protection levels, Maui’s dolphins will become practically extinct by 2030 as a result of fishing. Green bars: Historic population status, orange bars: prognosis at an annual decline of 9% due to fishing. Source: http://www.hectorsdolphins.com/

Maui’s dolphin extinction scenario – Under current protection levels, Maui’s dolphins will become practically extinct by 2030 as a result of fishing. Green bars: Historic population status, orange bars: prognosis at an annual decline of 9% due to fishing.
Source: http://www.hectorsdolphins.com/

In Endangered Species Research (Page 126), Dr Slooten, explains (under the subtitle of ‘Strandings and reported bycatch’) that she is using information from ‘the DOC’s database (database) of strandings and bycatch’, mainatining that the value of the information on the database as ‘at best, a qualitative (i.e. theoretical) indication of dolphin mortality’.  This is a sound reservation.

However at page 127, she refers to the same ‘qualitative’ information:

“In the far north and far south, bycatch increased slightly over time. For WCNI, there was 1.00 dolphin death (sic) yr from 1970 to 2008 and 1.33 dolphin deaths yr from 2009 to 2012.  The protected area off the WCNI was originally put in place in 2003.  Therefore it is useful to compare the periods before and after 2003.  Again, an average of 1.00 dolphin deaths yr from 1970 to 2002, increases slightly to 1.11 yr from 2003 to 2012.”

This paragraph is problematic.  Either Dr Slooten is misrepresenting the figures of deaths attributed to fishing by DOC in its database;  or, she is, without clearly stating this, assuming and conveying that all reported Maui’s dolphin mortality through the years is attributable to fishing activity.

First, lets look at the empirical evidence of Maui’s dolphin fishing caused mortality. The DOC database has reported up to quarterly in detail since 1st July 2008.  It reports by possible cause of death, but not by date, for the period 1921 – 19th March 2008. It reports five WCNI mortalities since 1 July 2008, and 40 in the period 1921 – 19th March 2008. Furthermore of these five dolphin mortalities since 1st July 2008, only one, the Ian McDougall capture in January 2012, is attributed as a fishing caused mortality. Of the other four, two were Hector’s and two were Maui’s.

Of course, it is not only possible, but likely in earlier instances, that there was some fishing mortality which was not attributed.  Thus, quite correctly, Dr Slooten acknowledges her analysis to be qualitive only.

Conversely it should also be noted that the mortalities listed as attributed to fishing, may in fact not be due to fishing at all, since DOC describes some as these as ‘fishing’ being only the ‘possible’ cause.

Of the total of 40, in the period 1921 – 2008, only five mortalities in WCNI are described as showing signs of fishing being the cause of death. They are variously listed as; ‘net marks – not determinate’, ‘possible entanglement’ (2X), ‘probable entanglement’ and ‘known entanglement’.

The DOC/MPI Sept 2012 Consultation Paper (Paper) states six such mortalities, with three stated as ‘known entanglements’ including the Ian McDougall capture in 2012.

The Paper’s total of 46 mortalities 1921 – 2012 is inconsistent with the database which also lists 46 mortalities, but database includes one beachcast off Dargaville in 2013 and so not on the Paper list.

Neither the database nor the Paper break down the 1921 – 2008 tally by years, only possible causes of mortality, and so, from either the online DOC incident database or Consultation Paper, any sub periods of 1921 to 2008 cannot be compared directly with the year groupings of Dr Slooten’s figures.

In contrast any figures Dr Slooten uses between 2008 and 2013 can be directly compared with the public DOC site database.

However the information is even more confused with DOC providing to some parties a more detailed list (list) of the pre 1st July 2008 mortality, including the dates of mortalities against possible causes of death.  The list allows for a direct comparison of Dr Slooten’s figures prior to 2008 with those DOC has. The additional list discloses, for instance, that the first possibly fishing attributed mortality was in 1997, a ‘possible entanglement’. Presumably Dr Slooten has this list.  She would need it, or a similar source, to be able to identify breakdowns by different year groups prior to 2008, though she makes no mention of doing do.

The data from all three DOC sources is adopted in the table below, with the list derived data used for groups of years to provide the comparison with the Slooten figures.  Prior to 1970 there were four mortalities reported on the list.  For the period 2003 – 2008, where the list contains six entries, there are no fishing related deaths.

However the list, while detailed, is complicated. It includes an auxiliary  tally, citing 44 mortalities 1921 – 2012, against the on-line database list of 45 (plus one in 2013) and the Paper’s 46 for the same 1921 – 2012 period. These discrepancies in these data from DOC, have nothing but a marginal bearing on the inaccuracy or otherwise of the use of any or all DOC data by Dr Slooten.  She has only stated one source of her figures, that which is, ironically, the lowest of the three DOC totals.

Dr Slooten has set out various periods between 1970 and 2012.  This removes four of the pre 1970 deaths listed on the DOC list.

WCNI Hector’s type dolphin mortality, and mortality attributed to fishing; by DOC and by Slooten 1970 - 2012

WCNI Hector’s type dolphin mortality, and mortality attributed to fishing; by DOC and by Slooten 1970 – 2012

Apart from the matter of how the total of a 43 year period could include a decimal point, let alone two, the Slooten figures for the two time breakdowns closely agree; at 44.3 apparently fishing related deaths from 1970 to 2012 when divided at 2002-03, and 44.32 when the tally is divided at 2008-09.

They nonetheless exceed all of DOC’s on line database register estimations, the additional more detailed list and the discussion paper tally, whether counting total deaths, or the ones Dr Slooten may be attributing to fishing.

All three DOC sources produce a tally of potentially fishing related mortality since 1970 as six.  Dr Slooten appears to state the tally is 33.

The DOC data describes 10 Hector’s type dolphin deaths on WCNI in the ten years 2003 – 2012 from all causes.  Of these, DOC attributes only one mortality to fishing and that one was well outside the restricted fishing zone and by MPI’s admission was ‘about as likely as not’ to have been a Hector’s in the Discussion Paper.

It is possible that Dr Slooten relies on the ‘open’ diagnosis in the post mortems as displayed on the database for two Hector’s type, (November 2010 and October 2011) as suspect fishing mortalities.  However the post mortems as specific as to the lack of fishing by-catch injury and are open in their conclusions simply over disease analysis which has now been carried out though not entered in to the incident database.

In contrast, to this DOC figure of one, Dr Slooten appears to claim 11.1 deaths of Hector’s type from fishing in the ten year period 2003 – 2012.

A proposition that Dr Slooten is trying to cite by-catch deaths, and not all reported deaths, is therefore completely unsubstantiated by the data.

Astonishing as it is, this is the clear interpretation put upon Dr Slooten’s paper by Dr Barbara Maas, in her submission to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, ‘Science-based management of New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphins – Scientific paper for IWC’, SC/65a/SMO6′.

Dr Maas states, at page 4 of the report,

“Since the 2008 protection measures were introduced, the number of stranded and reported bycatch cases has increased slightly (Slooten 2013). Between 1970 and 2008 an average of 1.00 entangled Maui’s dolphin was recorded per year. This figure increased marginally to 1.33 dolphin deaths per annum between 2009 and 2012.”

Accordingly, a maximum of six Maui’s deaths since 1970, for which evidence held by DOC exists, that the dolphin is both Maui’s and fishing might be responsible for its death, is now reported by Dr Maas to the IWC as a total of at least 52 Maui’s deaths confirmed as caused by fishing in the same period.

Related articles

Marine Reserves: Extending New Zealand’s Marine Reserves for the purpose of fish stocks protection is misguided!

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Recently I posted a response to an article by Jay Harkness (New Zealand Marine Reserves Too Small) in the Dominion Post (26th March) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?.

This article by Harkness extolled the benefits of extending New Zealand’s Marine Reserve Network to incorporate 30% of all the waters under New Zealand jurisdiction… My post vehemently disagreed with Harkness’s approach, stating instead that over 30% of the marine area under New Zealand jurisdiction is already subject to regulatory protections (Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs) and Seamount closures).

Recently I was sent a Op-Ed that was written for the Dominion Post in response to the Harkness article. Unfortunately the Dominion Post published Pamela Mace’s Op-Ed  (New Zealand Fisheries: Most fish stocks in a healthy state!instead, so I am going to post it below…

Targeted Marine Protection Better Than Naive Biology

Demanding expansion of Marine Reserves to protect fish stocks is a bit like setting fire to your house any time you are cold.  It’s not very targeted to the outcome of getting warm.

Jay Harkness (DominionPost 26th March) posits that only by extending Marine Reserves over a third of New Zealand waters can New Zealand fish stocks be preserved.

First of all, Jay Harkness provides no evidence at all for the claim that New Zealand’s marine fish stocks are in steep decline.  No numbers are given – no species are cited.

Some people may wish to believe there are fewer fish out there, but that doesn’t make it true.  The Quota Management System has set limits to fishing particular fish species since 1986.  If a species’ volume declines, often through quite natural fluctuations, then the Total Allowable Catch is reduced.

Undersea New Zealand, a high resolution image of the complex and diverse marine realm around New Zealand. Undersea New Zealand provides a unique insight into the shape of the seafloor within one of the world's most extensive deepwater jurisdictions. New Zealand straddles an active plate margin, creating a highly complex and diverse seascape of submarine trenches, underwater volcanoes, active submarine canyons and quiescent broad plateaux. Copyright 2012 NIWA. http://www.niwa.co.nz/news/new-map-reveals-new-zealand%E2%80%99s-seafloor-in-stunning-detail

Undersea New Zealand, a high resolution image of the complex and diverse marine realm around New Zealand. Undersea New Zealand provides a unique insight into the shape of the seafloor within one of the world’s most extensive deepwater jurisdictions. New Zealand straddles an active plate margin, creating a highly complex and diverse seascape of submarine trenches, underwater volcanoes, active submarine canyons and quiescent broad plateaux. Copyright 2012 NIWA.
http://www.niwa.co.nz/news/new-map-reveals-new-zealand%E2%80%99s-seafloor-in-stunning-detail

The Ministry for Primary Industries reported last year that only 0.5 per cent of our fish stocks are below the ‘hard limit’ where closures or reductions were necessary.

Recreational fishers through New Zealand are reporting significantly increased catches over a range of species.

Commercial inshore stocks are blossoming, with evidence both anecdotal and scientific.

The major Campbell Island southern blue whiting fishery numbers are at a historic high.

Other deepwater fisheries, such as the much-pointed-at orange roughy, are increasing, with 140 million of them in our seas.  The industry itself has set catch targets below the QMS level as an additional assurance that the orange roughy numbers will continue to increase over the next few years.

Marine Reserves obviously have a role in protecting particular areas, either for the unique or fragile nature of the ecosystem, or because they are where fish or other marine species breed.  They are targeted and have usually achieved a greater biodiversity within and beyond where they are because of their special nature.

But the same formula does not work for every environment.  Marine Reserves everywhere may make a good slogan, but the slogan is biologically naive.

Jay Harkness compares the third of the New Zealand land area ‘managed for conservation purposes’, with a presumed miniscule proportion of the sea area.

Both ends of this need examining.  The land area ‘managed for conservation purposes’ is under a plethora of protection measures, including a World Heritage Area, National Parks, Nature Reserves (such as Kapiti Island) Scientific Reserves (Mana Island) as well as Scientific and Historic Reserves (Matiu Island).  Landowners have covenanted 122,275 hectares of land under the QEII Trust.  Diverse forms of Maori stewardship apply to large areas.  One formula is not used alone.  Conservation is targeted and tailored.

Likewise, for the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone of our seas, the Benthic Protection Areas cover, interestingly enough, one third of the entire seabed.  This vast region of seabed can’t be fished, effectively giving the same protection as a marine reserve would give.

There are Marine Parks and the Marine Mammal Sanctuaries.  There are targeted fishing restrictions to protect Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins (though ridiculously overextended to areas where the dolphins aren’t) as well as regulations about when and how to catch various species of fish and how big or small they are allowed to be.

Controls over commercial fishing, and its monitoring and enforcement, are more than those for any land based primary industry.  Though some rules are dated, and some are not sensible, the overall system will supply New Zealand customers and export markets with seafood for many generations to come.

Multiple Users: Can Fishing & Deep-sea Phosphate Mining that spatially coincide, co-exist?

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Surely we’ve seen the headlines…

Treasure (well Rock Phosphate) Struck on the Chatham Rise!!

I recall a Fairfax article last year (03 April 2012) by James Weir that was this celebratory (High-seas treasure hunt for phosphate):

The underwater treasure ship Dorado Discovery is set to sail from Wellington for the Chatham Rise tomorrow.While its northern-hemisphere sister ships look for sunken treasure in shipwrecks from long ago, Dorado Discovery’s target is nuggets not of gold but of fertiliser – rock phosphate laid down millions of years ago.

NZAX-listed Chatham Rock Phosphate is hoping to mine the surface 400 metres underwater for phosphate which could provide fertiliser for New Zealand for 25 years or longer. At present it is imported from North Africa.

The ship has just returned from a fortnight gathering environmental data from the Chatham Rise and is loading new equipment for the next phase of the voyage. The past two weeks’ cruise has been “counting critters” in the operation’s scientific leg; the next phase is to work out how to best mine the phosphate.

The small phosphate rocks sit in an olive green sediment and mining them will be a challenge – about 200m deeper than any underwater mining in the world.”

rock phosphate

POTENTIAL RICHES AHOY: Scientist Ray Wood with samples of rock phosphate and the green sediment it lies in on the Chatham Rise. PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

The story concentrates mostly on the machinery of extraction, but briefly turned its mind to the effects of extraction. Quoting GNS principal scientist and geophysicist Ray Wood, who is the Chatham Rock Phosphate representative on the cruise:

[We] collected 150 hours of video from about 2m off the bottom. In the environmental leg, scientists collected 17,000 photos and logged 60,000 observations, which will take months to analyse. There is a lot of the surface that is just green mud, but some areas it has coral,with some starfish and fish, while other areas are sparse. It was an amazing voyage – we are the first people to ever look at this part of the world.”

This is great news right?

According to Chatham Rise Phosphate (CRP):

[the] extraction of the rock phosphate [will] provide a locally produced alternative to the 1 million tonnes of this material annually used in New Zealand and primarily imported from Morocco, thereby reducing our carbon footprint as well as high transport and foreign exchange costs.

Rock phosphate is an essential ingredient of manufactured fertiliser and can be applied directly to pasture with less environmental damage than super-phosphate from run-off. Extensive exploration in the 1970s and 1980s identified a potential 100-year supply for the New Zealand market.  Recent substantial increases in the market value of rock phosphate and advances in offshore extraction technology mean it is now feasible to harvest this resource. The deposits are comprised of nodules lying on the seabed at relatively shallow depths and the relevant technology for such extraction is used routinely.”

CRP lists these wider benefits:

  • Reduced exposure to currency risk
  • Reduced commodity risk
  • Known fixed costs
  • Reduced import burden on NZ economy
  • Reduced carbon footprint
  • NZ owned and controlled
  • Possible export earnings

In a Powerpoint presentation (click the picture below to access presentaion) CRP sums up with these for asertions:

  • 100% owned long life deposit 
  • Financial, economic, & environmental benefits to CRP & NZ
  • Key international contractor engaged
  • Development on track 
But the silver lining has a cloud right?

There are clear benefits for New Zealand (especially for the Chatham Islands’ communities who could definitely use the windfall of the phosphate mining operations). But what are the challenges?

Well here are two that I can show through maps:

Location of the  location of rock phosphate and the proposed Mining Area can be seen in the maps below.

Chatham Rock Phosphate has identified a mineable deposit of phosphate nodules covering an area of 380km2 at 400m water depth. The company estimates that the deposit contains 65,000t/km2 of phosphate. Mining at a rate of 1.5Mt/y of rock phosphate could start using large dredges as early as the end of 2013.  http://www.miningmagazine.com/management-in-action/mining-the-oceans

Chatham Rock Phosphate has identified a mineable deposit of phosphate nodules covering an area of 380km2 at 400m water depth. The company estimates that the deposit contains 65,000t/km2 of phosphate. Mining at a rate of 1.5Mt/y of rock phosphate could start using large dredges as early as the end of 2013.
http://www.miningmagazine.com/management-in-action/mining-the-oceans

Map of the location of rock phosphate (brown hatching) & Location of CRP Licence (pink). http://rockphosphate.co.nz/

Map of the location of rock phosphate (brown hatching) & Location of CRP Licence (pink).
http://rockphosphate.co.nz/

But what about the location of the entire Rock Phosphate area?

In my post (Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?) I wrote about New Zealand’s Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs) and Seamount Closures that between them protect the benthic biodiversity of over 30% on New Zealand’s Deep Seabed.

Together Seamount Closures and BPAs which close large representative areas of the seabed to bottom trawl fishing methods, including dredging, in perpetuity (an in the 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.

In the same post I provided a map of New Zealand’s BPAs and Seamount Closures:

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 (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).

You’ll notice in map above there is a BPA (the Mid-Chatham BPA) in the Middle of the Chatham Rise. If you look at the CRP area maps above you’ll notice that the proposed mining area is located within this BPA.

So CRP are proposing to mine in a protected area that is set aside to protect representative benthic biodiversity. This overlap is the subject of a soon to be published article in Marine Policy. This article by Alison Rieser et al. features the following map accompanied by some commentary that is somewhat critical of protection benefit BPAs given the issue of mining licences.

Fig. 4. Location of mineral prospecting and exploration permits (granted or submitted) within the Kermadec, Tectonic Reach, and mid-Chatham Rise BPAs. Data from www.nzpam.govt.nz/cms/minerals/permits/permit%20boundaries.

Fig. 4. Location of mineral prospecting and exploration permits (granted or submitted) within the Kermadec, Tectonic Reach, and mid-Chatham Rise BPAs. Data from http://www.nzpam.govt.nz/cms/minerals/permits/permit%20boundaries.

The other challenge is the overlap with the Chatham Rise fishing grounds. Which are the most productive fishing grounds in New Zealand, providing New Zealand millions of export dollars. This is concern from various sectors with the Seafood industry that their is a risk that the deep sea mining of rock phosphate will have adverse effects on fisheries, in both the short term and the long term.

Cumulative area trawled by TCEPR vessels, 1990–2008. http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/report-cards/seabed-trawling/2010/

Cumulative area trawled by TCEPR vessels, 1990–2008.
http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/report-cards/seabed-trawling/2010/

According to  Ministry for the Environment analysis of TCEPR data:

Figure 2 shows the geographic distribution of commercial trawling effort by Trawl Catch Effort Processing Return (TCEPR) vessels in New Zealand waters from 1990 to 2008, [and] shows that trawl effort is highest in the eastern (on the Chatham Rise) and southern (on the north west edge of the Campbell Plateau) areas of the EEZ and is also high off the west coast of the South Island at the edge of the Challenger Plateau. Other trawling hotspots include areas off the Wairarapa coast and east of the Coromandel Peninsula. These are areas where the main target species of hoki, squid, orange roughy, southern blue whiting, barracouta, scampi and hake can be found.”

CRP assure us that they are consulting with the seafood industry and with other deepsea stakeholders including Maori… It would seem that they will need to… Notwithstanding the potential benefits of RCP to New Zealand, the challenges ahead of them are significant.

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

cropped-yellow-fin-tuna-school3

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.

journal.pone.0010905.t005

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?