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AG latest to say the marine reserve system is broken

AG latest to say the marine reserve system is broken

First published in Energy and Environment on June 27, 2019.

The Office of the Auditor-General is the latest body to argue reform of marine reserve legislation and wider marine biodiversity management is needed if NZ is to lift the area covered by marine reserves.

Former Environment Minister Nick Smith proposed legislative reform but after a discussion document was released in 2016 nothing yet has publicly emerged.

The Auditor-General’s report Using different processes to protect marine environments looks at how the process went for two groups that provided advice to ministers. The two groups were Te Korowai o Te Tai ō Marokura, the Kaikōura Coastal Marine Guardians (Te Korowai) and the South-East Marine Protection Forum – Te Roopu Manaaki ki te Toka (the South-East Forum).

Te Korowai used a community-led process that, with support from government agencies, prepared a marine strategy for the Kaikōura coast. The South-East Forum was established to make recommendations for a network of marine protected areas consistent with the Marine Protected Areas Policy.

The gentle advice from the AG’s work is the guidelines for implementing the Marine Protected Area policy are not supporting the effective achievement of marine biodiversity objectives. “We encourage the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries, as the stewards of the marine environment, to consider how any reform to marine biodiversity protection legislation, policy, or planning could support greater collaboration between parties, and protect NZ’s unique marine biodiversity in a more effective way.”

Proposals for establishing new marine reserves have been infrequent and many of NZ’s coastal regions have little or no marine protected areas. Only 0.4% of the mainland territorial sea has marine reserves and each of these have been hard fought and mainly in areas with very few people.

Greg Schollum, Deputy Controller and Auditor-General, said establishing marine protection is not easy, fraught with tension and have historically taken a long time.

“In my view, aspects of the implementation guidelines are too restrictive. They limit the marine protection tools that can be recommended to Ministers, and state that Marine Protection Planning Forums should not be diverted by Resource Management Act 1991, aquaculture, or fisheries management matters. However, these matters are important to many NZers.”

In the case of the South-East Forum members did not feel that recommendations to the Ministers could adequately address the concerns of the people they represented. As a consequence, some members’ participation and confidence in the South-East Forum was undermined, contributing to the creation of factions in the South-East Forum that appeared, at times, to operate in an adversarial way.

“Our findings, the fact that Marine Protection Planning Forums have been attempted only three times since 2005, and that many of NZ’s coastal regions have little or no marine protected areas, support my view that aspects of the implementation guidelines make it difficult to achieve NZ’s marine biodiversity protection objectives.

“In my view, NZers would value an approach that encourages and enables communities to better support marine protection measures. A more flexible way needs to be found to balance the views and values of those with an interest in the marine environment. This is to establish a sustainable level of protection for NZ’s marine biodiversity that is consistent with long-term stewardship of an important natural resource.”

First published in Energy and Environment on June 27, 2019.

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