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Marine Farms Affect Dusky Dolphins

No further marine farms should be approved in areas used by marine mammals until substantially more research is done to identify mammal feeding and breeding habitats, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

"Recent research by three American scientists in Admiralty Bay in the Marlborough Sounds shows that existing marine farms appear to be displacing dusky dolphins from an important feeding habitat," Forest and Bird field officer Eugenie Sage said.

"The report prepared for the Department of Conservation is the first comprehensive New Zealand study of inter-action between dolphins and marine farms," she said.

Dusky dolphins are found more commonly in Admiralty Bay than anywhere else in the Marlborough Sounds. Their use of the area peaks during winter.

From data collected over four years the researchers conclude that Admiralty Bay is a "hotspot" for wintertime foraging by dusky dolphins. The research shows that dolphins prefer not to use areas already occupied by marine farms and that new marine farms are proposed in areas heavily used by dusky dolphins.

The report recommends that no further marine farms be developed in Admiralty Bay, that existing farms not be extended, and that some existing farms be removed.

"Existing farms in Admiralty Bay are generally close to shore. Marlborough District Council has received a large number of applications for farms in the middle of the bay. If approved these would allow wall to wall marine farms in the bay, effectively preventing dusky dolphins from feeding here," Ms Sage said.

"Marine farms are also proposed around Banks Peninsula and in Jackson Bay on the West Coast, both habitats for Hector's dolphin, a threatened species."

"Cloudy Bay Aquaculture's application for a 1645 ha marine farm near Port Underwood is in an area which historically has been an important calving area for Southern right whale. If whale numbers increase, such a large marine farm may discourage or prevent whales from using this area."

"Marine farms may also displace seabirds, such as shags, from feeding areas. Noise and disturbance from boats servicing and harvesting marine farms close to shore may disturb shag feeding and breeding," Ms Sage said.

"A precautionary approach requires that no more farms be approved in marine mammal habitat until considerably more research has been done to identify breeding and feeding areas."


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