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Seabed prospecting threatens Maui’s dolphin

30 May 2008 – Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use


Seabed prospecting threatens Maui’s dolphin

The issuing of a new permit allowing prospecting for minerals under the seabed off the North Island coast poses threats to critically endangered Maui’s dolphins, Forest & Bird says.

In March the Government issued a permit to mining company Trans-Tasman Resources Limited for two years, allowing it to prospect for minerals in an area covering more than 6000 square kilometres of seabed from north Taranaki to the Waikato River mouth.

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says prospecting on the seabed poses a threat to Maui’s dolphins, which are found only off the north-west coast of the North Island. 

Dolphins depend on sound as their primary sense, using sound to communicate, forage and navigate.  Seismic surveys conducted in marine prospecting use high intensity pulses of sound to determine the composition of rock layers under the sea floor. 

Studies have found that these sounds can have adverse effects on dolphins’ behaviour, and could cause hearing loss, discomfort or injury.   The permit also allows drilling, which poses further threats to the dolphins and other marine species.

Kirstie Knowles says the potential impact of the newly permitted prospecting, in combination with existing prospecting for gas and minerals off the North Island coastline by Rio Tinto and Genesis Power Ltd, could have serious consequences for Maui’s dolphins.

“Maui’s dolphins are the world’s rarest marine dolphin, with just 111 individuals remaining.  We cannot afford to pose any further risks to Maui’s dolphins.”

Guidelines recommend that prospectors shut down the air guns used in seismic surveys if “species of concern” are within one kilometre.  Maui’s dolphins are listed as a species of concern and live within the prospecting area.  However, these guidelines are only voluntary.

Kirstie Knowles says the prospecting permit should be revoked, and the Department of Conservation’s long-delayed Threat Management Plan for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, which is now due out this month, should ban seabed prospecting and mining within Maui’s dolphin range.

“We can’t take any chances with Maui’s dolphins – any further human-induced deaths could mean extinction of the species.   That’s why it is crucial that the Government stops prospecting from going ahead in order to protect these special and highly vulnerable dolphins.”


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