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Last chance to save Māui dolphins

Last chance to save Māui dolphins

The Government’s proposed rescue plan must be strengthened because it is the last chance to save Māui dolphins from extinction and secure the future for Hector’s dolphins, Forest & Bird says.

Submissions close tomorrow for the Ministry of Conservation and Fisheries New Zealand’s Hector’s and Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan consultation.

Forest and Bird’s submission welcomes many of the proposals to enhance protections for both the Māui and Hector’s sub-species, Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Anton van Helden says. But he adds the proposals fall short of securing the future for these rare and beautiful animals found nowhere else in the world.

“There are only around 60 Māui dolphins over a year old left in the world. Every single one counts and threats created by humans are driving them towards extinction,” Mr van Helden says.

“We need to tackle every one of those threats and half measures won’t save Māui dolphins. Set net and trawl fishing and dangers related to oil, gas and minerals exploration and mining are known threats that we can eliminate.

“Small local populations of Hector’s dolphins are also in danger of disappearing and we must protect these to safeguard the future of the overall population.”

Forest & Bird wants only dolphin-friendly fishing methods to be allowed in their habitat. This means switching from commercial and recreational set net fishing and commercial trawl fishing throughout the range of Māui and Hector’s dolphins in waters out to a depth of 100 metres.

Methods such as long-lining, potting and purse seine would still be among those available to fishers.

“Zero bycatch is the only acceptable goal for both Māui and Hector’s dolphins. Forest & Bird realises this will cause disruption to some fishers and believes the government should provide financial and practical help for those affected.”

Seismic surveys and other activities related to oil, gas and other marine mining activities have no place in the dolphins’ habitat, Forest & Bird submitted. While the management plan proposals include expanding marine mammal sanctuaries, they also allow exemptions for 21 existing permit holders in Māui dolphin habitat until 2046.

“Māui dolphins could be extinct before the permits expire,” Mr van Helden says.

Seismic surveying activities are controlled by the 2013 Code of Conduct but this falls well short of best practice and is no longer fit for purpose based on the latest science.

The threat posed by toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by cat faeces washed into the ocean, is not well understood and Forest & Bird supports a proposed research programme to better understand its impact and ways to combat it.

Research shows the disease kills dolphins with weakened immune systems. We must reduce the human impacts that degrade their environment, including fishing, mining, pollution, and the effects of climate change.

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