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Marine protection planning system modernised

29 January 2006

Marine protection planning system modernised

All New Zealanders are to be given a greater say on where marine protected areas should go under a new policy launched by Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton and Conservation Minister Chris Carter today.

The Marine Protected Areas Policy sets up a new system for planning where marine protected areas, including no-take marine reserves, are to be located in each region.

In future, the government expects proposals for new marine reserves to be considered by regional forums before ministers decide on them. The forums will involve a broad range of community groups with an interest in the local marine area.

"The relationship New Zealanders have with the sea is an important part of defining who we are as a people, and therefore, everyone has a stake in how we use the sea," Jim Anderton said.

"We have been successful at protecting our terrestrial environment, but we have not yet banked the biological wealth in our seas in a comprehensive network of protected areas," Chris Carter said.

"In the past our system for developing marine protected areas, particularly marine reserves, has been somewhat piecemeal. This has sometimes caused unnecessary conflict because, rightly or wrongly, different stakeholders have not felt fully included in protection processes," Mr Carter said.

"This new policy heavily reforms the old system. It aspires to a comprehensive network of protected areas encompassing the full range of our marine environments, but it seeks to ensure that the sites included in the network are chosen in a way that minimises the impact on existing users of the ocean."

The policy will see a team of experts scientifically classify the different types of marine environments around the country, and an assessment made of which environments have already been protected. Those environments that have not been protected will be tagged for consideration by local forums.

The forums will be tasked with:

1) Developing proposals for where new protected areas in particular regions should be located to plug the gaps in the marine protection network, and
2) Identifying what type of protection tool is most appropriate to each particular spot.

"Rather than different government agencies driving a range of different protection tools, the government wants these tools, such as fisheries restrictions under the Fisheries Act and the establishment of marine reserves, used in an integrated way," Jim Anderton said.

"We want a protected network of areas in the sea that is science-based but informed by the unique local knowledge marine user groups have."

"The regional forum approach should bring certainty to marine users, as all the potential sites that might be proposed for protection in an area, and their impacts, can be considered at once. This will enable a consensus to be reached on how to minimise adverse effects on existing marine users.

"Our hope is that by adopting this new approach we will make smooth progress towards the government's goal of having 10 per cent of our marine area under some form of protection by 2010," Jim Anderton said.

The government wants at least one representative example of each habitat or ecosystem type in the new network to be protected by a marine reserve. Marine reserves will also be used to protect rare and unique sites.

Existing marine reserve applications before Ministers will continue through the statutory process already triggered. This includes applications for reserves at Akaroa, Great Barrier Island, Wellington South Coast, and the Sugar Loaf Islands.

However, proposals that have not yet reached the stage of a formal application will be folded into the new system. This includes the proposal for a reserve at the Nuggets in Otago.

The new policy has been developed after consultation with key marine stakeholders.

Marine Protected Areas Q & A

Why an MPA Policy and Implementation Plan?

New Zealand’s Biodiversity Strategy sets out a vision for coastal and marine biodiversity protection by 2020. This involves creating a network of marine protected areas that fully represents the range of New Zealand's coastal and marine ecosystems and habitats. This network will be created using a range of management tools.

The network aims to protect “outstanding, rare, distinctive or internationally or nationally important” habitats and ecosystems, as well as the full range of areas representative of the more common coastal, offshore, and deep-water habitats and their communities. Like our land-based Protected Natural Areas network, this will ‘bank’ some of our biological wealth as an investment for future generations.

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy identifies a target of 10% of the marine environment protected in a MPA network by 2010.

In the past, the approach to marine protection has been fragmented. A number of tools, including marine reserves, fisheries management measures and purpose-made legislation, have been used to initiate protection. But there has been no overall framework to guide and co-ordinate such processes. The processes to establish marine protection have often been lengthy and confrontational. This has significantly impeded progress on establishing protected sites and has polarised the community over the need for and benefits from marine protection.

The Marine Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan sets out how we will establish the new MPA network. It specifies the principles guiding the implementation of the network, and a plan for making it happen.

Who will be leading the implementation of the MPA Policy?
The Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries are jointly responsible for implementing the MPA Policy. Other government agencies, local government, tangata whenua an stakeholder groups will also be involved in the policy implementation.

What are the steps in creating this MPA network?
First, New Zealand’s nearshore and offshore habitats and ecosystems will be classified. The aim is to identify the range of habitats and ecosystems that should be represented, as well as special places that are considered outstanding and rare.

Also, a ‘Protection Standard’ will be set for our MPA network. This will be a level of protection that allows habitats and ecosystems to remain at (or recover to) a healthy state.

Next, the habitat and ecosystem types currently protected in some way (e.g. marine reserves, fisheries restrictions, cable protection zones, etc.) will be compared against the agreed Protection Standard. If they meet it, those areas will become part of the MPA network. The inventory of MPAs will be up-dated regularly and be publicly available.

This list of MPAs will be compared against the range of habitats and ecosystems identified by the classification process, and the gaps in the network identified.

These gaps will be filled in a way that involves marine users, tangata whenua, and communities, and is guided by advice from marine scientists. These groups will be given the range of habitat and ecosystem types to be protected in their region of interest, and asked to help identify appropriate MPA locations and management tools that minimise impacts on existing users and Treaty obligations yet still meet the MPA Protection Standard.

The government intends that at least one example of each habitat or ecosystem included in the MPA network will protected by a marine reserve. Marine reserves will also be used to protect outstanding and rare sites.

Some sites selected as part of the network will already be in a near-pristine state; others may have been impacted by a range of human activities. In these cases, habitats and ecosystems must be able to recover from their degraded states.

How will we classify habitats and ecosystems?
The classification process is designed to be robust, but also pragmatic. Initially, New Zealand waters will be divided into broad ‘Biogeographic Regions’, each of which share a common range of species and environmental factors.

Within these, representative habitat types and ecosystems will be identified, as well as ones that are outstanding and rare.

An ‘expert panel’ of marine scientists has been convened to suggest how we do this. Groups interested in the marine environment will be able to comment on their suggestions. The Department of Conservation and Ministry of Fisheries will then make recommendations to their ministers based on this advice and comments from stakeholders. The ministers of Conservation and Fisheries will make their decisions on this by 30 June 2006.

What is the Protection Standard?
The protection of sites in our MPA network will be such that it allows habitats and ecosystems to remain in (or recover to) a healthy state.

Expert advice will be sought on how to best define such a ‘Protection Standard’, which all sites in New Zealand’s MPA network must meet. As with the classification system, defining the MPA Protection Standard will go through a process of consultation and ministerial approval.

There will only be one Protection Standard, but the restrictions needed to achieve this will differ depending on the ecosystem or habitat involved. So for some offshore MPAs, a suitable level of protection may just involve addressing effects like fishing and mineral exploration; but for some nearshore areas, land-based effects like unnatural levels of sedimentation and pollution may also need to be addressed.

The level of protection needed will also take into account how well a habitat or ecosystem is able to recover from natural or human-induced impacts. So more vulnerable habitats or ecosystems may require more examples to be included in our MPA network; or they may require tools that are more restrictive in terms of impacts.

So while the Protection Standard will be the same for MPAs everywhere, the management tools needed to achieve this will vary. Therefore, a range of government agencies will be involved in planning New Zealand’s MPA network.

The government intends that at least one example of each habitat or ecosystem type will be protected by the highest level of protection possible - a marine reserve.

What protected areas do we already have?
We already have a collection of areas around our coasts and Exclusive Economic Zone that are protected by marine reserves and other coastal and marine restrictions like mätaitai and taiapure areas, cable exclusion zones, areas closed to certain fishing methods, and areas of significant conservation value (protected under the RMA).

However, until the MPA Protection Standard is defined and these areas compared against it, we will not know which of these can be classed as MPAs.

How will we decide what new areas we will need?
The habitat and ecosystem types currently protected by marine reserves and other coastal and marine management tools will be compared against the MPA Protection Standard. If they meet it, those areas will become part of the MPA network. This list of MPAs will be compared against the range of habitats and ecosystems identified by the classification process, and the gaps in the network identified.

What will be the priorities for creating new MPAs?
The government’s priorities in filling these gaps will be to protect under-represented habitats and ecosystems and “outstanding, rare, distinctive, or nationally or internationally important” habitats or ecosystems. Priorities will also be influenced by the threats posed to under-represented habitats or ecosystems.

It is envisaged that the rollout of MPA planning will largely be based around those Biogeographic Regions with the biggest ‘gaps’.

What management tools will be used to create new MPAs?
All MPA sites must meet the required Protection Standard. However this could be achieved using a variety of management tools, either on their own or in combination (e.g. marine reserves, Fisheries Act regulations, and Resource Management Act requirements).

These tools must meet their primary objective under their legislation - for instance, Fisheries Act regulations and closures can only be used to protect biodiversity from the effect of fishing. In other cases, adequate protection may be achieved incidentally (e.g. cable protection areas).

Resource Management Act tools may be used to control land-based effects like unnatural levels of sedimentation and pollution. They can also provide a level of protection by special zoning of areas with significant conservation values. The effects of invasion by alien marine organisms are covered by the Biosecurity Act.

How do we decide where MPAs are located?
Where there is a choice of several sites, which if protected would add a similar ecosystem or habitat to the MPA network, the site(s) chosen should minimise adverse impacts on existing users and Treaty settlement obligations.

Where there is a choice to be made, among minimum impact sites, selection may also be guided by:

1) Accessibility for management and enforcement requirements.

2) Benefits such as educational diving and tourism opportunities.

Why can’t MPAs be established for other purposes like tourism and education?
The purpose of MPAs under this policy is biodiversity protection. While secondary benefits, like tourism or recreational opportunities may occur, these must not interfere with biodiversity protection.

When siting MPAs, biodiversity protection will be the primary consideration.

The MPA Policy does not directly address protection of marine historic or cultural heritage, or protection for non-extractive use (e.g. diving) or values, tourism or recreational opportunities. Such issues will be considered as part of Oceans Policy.

How will Fisheries Act tools contribute to the MPA process?
Fisheries Act tools must be used in a manner consistent with the Act – ie providing for utilisation of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability.

Examples of Fisheries Act tools include total closures or gear restrictions in certain areas. Where such tools meet the Protection Standard, they will form part of the MPA network.

What about customary fisheries management tools?
A range of fisheries management tools may contribute to the MPA network, including customary fisheries management tools like Mätaitai reserves and Taiapure.

These tools provide for customary Maori use and management practices rather than protection of biodiversity at the habitat and ecosystem level. If tangata whenua wish, these tools could be applied in a way that allows the area to meet the Protection Standard and be included in the MPA network.

Areas might meet the Protection Standard if they included a reasonably sized no-take or highly restricted area, and can be sustained over time.

What about marine reserves?
Existing marine reserve applications before Ministers will continue through the statutory process already triggered. This includes applications for reserves at Akaroa, Great Barrier Island, Wellington South Coast, and the area including the Sugar Loaf Islands near New Plymouth.

However, proposals that have not yet reached the stage of a formal application will be folded into the new system.

The Government intends that new proposals for marine reserves will be initiated through the new MPA planning process.

The government intends that at least one example of each habitat or ecosystem included in the MPA network will be protected by a marine reserve. Marine reserves will also be used to protect outstanding and rare sites.

What is the management program for offshore areas?
Under current legislation, management tools like the Marine Reserve, and Resource Management Acts only apply to New Zealand’s Territorial Sea (within 12 nautical miles of our coast). [There is currently a Marine Reserve Bill before select committee that seeks to enable marine reserves to be established in the EEZ.]

However, Fisheries Act tools can be implemented right out to 200 nautical miles – the boundary of our EEZ. Beyond this is the ‘high seas’, where management tools can only be agreed to and implemented at an international level.

What role will Regional Councils play?
Regional Councils have significant roles to play in MPA planning and implementation.

Firstly, under the Resource Management Act they play a role in identifying areas of significant conservation value in the marine environment. Such areas could potentially contribute to the MPA network if the level of protection offered by RMA tools was sufficiently high, or was used in combination with other legislative tools.

Equally importantly, land-based impacts have a significant effect on the quality of the coastal marine environment, including protected marine areas. Management of land-based impacts is primarily the responsibility of Regional Councils.

How does the Foreshore and Seabed Act relate to the MPA Policy & Implementation Plan?
Territorial Customary Rights Orders that have been applied for and granted will create management frameworks that might meet the MPA Protection Standard. If the Protection Standard is met, these areas could become MPAs.

How can I be involved?
The first opportunity for involvement will come with the submissions process for the classification system and the Protection Standard.

After this process has finished, the Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation will draw up an inventory of MPAs and identify gaps in the network. They will also identify priority regions for implementation. This information should be available in late 2006.

Once implementation begins in a region, forum groups will be established that bring together tangata whenua, along with representatives of the region’s diving, fishing and environmental interest groups.

These groups will work with government and scientists on identifying potential MPA sites within their region’s nearshore marine environment. These groups will be supported by input from marine scientists.

This has already begun for the South Island’s West Coast, the Subantarctic Islands, and the Auckland/Hauraki Gulf area. Work on the classification system, Protection Standard and MPA inventory will help these groups progress.

A process is currently underway around the Kaikoura area. This is not part of the MPA rollout process, but sites identified by it could become MPAs if they meet the Protection Standard.

MPA rollout will occur in other regions over the next few years. Look on the Biodiversity NZ website ( for details later in the year.

Offshore areas will be planned at a national level with tangata whenua and stakeholders. The government intends to begin this process shortly.

How does Oceans Policy link with the MPA Policy?
The aim of New Zealand’s Oceans Policy is to ensure integrated and consistent management of the oceans within New Zealand's jurisdiction. The Ministry for the Environment is the lead agency for Oceans Policy.

The MPA Policy Statement and Implementation Plan has been developed consistent with the Oceans Policy aims of better government co-ordination and clear goal setting as a priority.

Visit the Biodiversity website ( for more information on Marine Protected Areas. Copies of the MPA Policy and Implementation Plan will be available on this site in January 2006.

Alternatively, contact your local DOC or MFish office for a copy.


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