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NZ marine conservation ~ left in Australia's wake

New Zealand marine conservation ~ left in Australia's wake

New Zealand has put marine conservation on hold for too long, the New Zealand Underwater Association says.

"New Zealand was a world leader in marine conservation ~ now Australia is leaving us in their wake," says Karli Thomas, the New Zealand Underwater Association's Environmental Coordinator.

Despite recent commitments such as the Biodiversity Strategy goal to protect ten percent of the marine area, and the review of the Marine Reserves Act, New Zealand has no more marine reserves now than we had in 1999.

"Meanwhile, Australia has created fully protected marine reserves around several of their subantarctic islands, and has developed an entire network of marine reserves for the state of Victoria" Ms Thomas says.

Australia's most recent subantarctic reserve, the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve, was established last week. "At 6.5 million hectares it's the world's largest marine reserve, dwarfing New Zealand's Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve," Ms Thomas says.

New Zealand protects none of its subantarctic waters in marine reserves, despite the high level of land protection given to the Subantarctic Islands. However there has been a proposal for a marine reserve around the Auckland Islands, 460 kilometers south of the South Island of New Zealand.

The Auckland Islands marine reserve application is for a 484,000 hectare marine reserve, surrounding the Auckland Islands from the mean high water mark out to 12 nautical miles. "We are looking forward to a positive decision from the Minister to establish that marine reserve," Ms Thomas says.

Australia is also leaving New Zealand behind in establishing marine reserve networks. "Taking a strategic approach to marine conservation is an improvement on the ad-hoc way that New Zealand has created its marine reserves to date" Ms Thomas says. "After more than three decades of work, the piecemeal approach has resulted in the protection of less than 0.1 percent of New Zealand's coastal waters in marine reserves."

While the biodiversity strategy signalled a shift towards a planned network, there is nothing in the new Marine Reserves Bill to encourage the development of networks of marine reserves. "The Bill is supposed to help implement the Biodiversity Strategy, but it is still focused on single reserves. We have to start looking at the bigger picture, we can't afford to struggle for ten years for each individual reserve."

The Australian state of Victoria chose to take a strategic approach instead, and next month thirteen fully protected marine reserves will be created, covering five percent of Victoria's marine area. "We should learn from Victoria's success," Ms Thomas says.

The New Zealand Underwater Association is urging the government to take immediate action to protect our marine biodiversity by developing a network of marine reserves.

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