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New way of looking at NZ oceans a world-first

New way of looking at NZ oceans a world-first

A revolutionary new mapping system that will provide a wealth of information about what goes on within our oceans was launched today by Environment Minister Marian Hobbs.

The Marine Environment Classification (MEC) will – for the first time – provide excellent information and maps of the physical and biological variations of the oceans within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone.

“The classification system is a world first, taking a sophisticated new approach to classifying New Zealand’s different marine environments and ecosystems, with their different communities of plants, animals and other marine life,” Marian Hobbs said.

It will be a valuable tool, providing environmental baselines from which we can make decisions about resource use and ecosystem management, Marian Hobbs said.

“We know that under the surface of our oceans lies a vast resource – vibrant and varied ecosystems fostering extraordinary marine biodiversity. Before the Marine Environment Classification, there was no way of knowing how unique or common many of our marine environments were.

“The new classification system will show, for example, whether or not an environment type at a location being considered for resource use is common, rare or irreplaceable. This will be invaluable information in making decisions.”

The system will be used by a range of people and agencies who manage our oceans in both central and local government, as well as industry groups. It will be used for planning, monitoring, reporting, consents, and policy advice and preparation.

The classification system can help support decisions about how we use our marine environment, including tourism, fisheries, aquaculture, recreation, mineral and petroleum exploration; and how we assign priorities to heritage, ecology and cultural values.

The system was developed jointly by the Ministry for the Environment and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), with support from the Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation.

Fact sheet: Marine Environment Classification

The Marine Environment Classifcation (MEC) is based on a combination of eight factors: depth, tides, waves, the shape of the seabed, the temperature of the water, the salinity and concentration of nutrients, the depth of water that is being mixed by the wind, and the amount of sunlight the surface waters receives.

Different combinations of these factors result in differences in environmental character or classes of environment at different locations in our oceans.

The classification system is used in a computer mapping system called a Geographic Information System. The outputs include maps, tables and graphs.

It is world-first in that it uses very large data sets describing the distributions of fish, animals living on the sea floor and other marine life, rather than relying on informed guesses to do the classification.

The Marine Environment Classification system classifies over 8 million km² of ocean around New Zealand.

The system uses scientific data and information collected from research over the last more than 30 years.

Much of the New Zealand economy is based around the ocean. Annually we export $1.2 billion of fisheries and aquaculture products and generate over $26 million from marine and eco-tourism. We have 124,000 km² of seafloor permitted for mineral and petroleum exploration, and a significant marine engineering industry. Most of our large cities and towns are on the coast.

Our marine environment also has a range of different seafloor habitats, including canyons, deep-sea channels, seamounts and submarine hot springs. We have also increasingly recognised the recreational, heritage, ecological and cultural value of the coastal and ocean environment.

The Marine Environment Classification is the third in a set of ecosystem-based classifications developed by the Ministry for the Environment. The other two are Land Environments New Zealand and the River Environment Classification.

The Marine Environment Classification is being distributed free of charge on DVD on request by the Ministry for the Environment.

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