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Marine Resources Offer Huge Economic Potential

Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS)

5 OCTOBER 1999


New Zealand could be earning $3 billion a year from fishing, aquaculture, and oil and gas extraction within a few years, according to the Centre for Advanced Engineering at Canterbury University.

In the longer term, potential returns from ocean and seafloor resources could be measured in hundreds of billions of dollars, CEA Executive Director John Blakeley said today.

Currently only a small part of New Zealand’s gross domestic product was derived from the ocean. Returns from an expanded marine sector could provide a substantial lift to New Zealand’s sluggish economy.

“ We have started to develop some of our marine resources, but we cannot claim to manage our maritime wealth in any strategic sense,” Mr Blakeley said.

“ Currently our most significant ocean resource is fishing, and there is scope for more development in this industry. ”

Mr Blakeley said few people were aware that New Zealand had the fourth largest exclusive economic zone in the world behind the United States, Australia, and Indonesia. New Zealand had the potential to increase the area under its control by more than 70 percent, pushing out present boundaries by about 200km.

New Zealand’s relative isolation meant there was only a small degree of overlap with other countries in its offshore zone.

“Within this vast area of ocean there are potentially very valuable resources. As well as hydrocarbons, fish, and minerals, there are less obvious possibilities such as biological assets, communications and energy.”

Fisheries resources were projected to be worth about $1.7 billion annually by the year 2000, and would steadily increase in value beyond then.

Seafloor mineral deposits had only been partly assessed but already the value of the Chatham Rise phosphoric deposit had been estimated at $10 billion. The value of other mineral deposits was difficult to estimate, but likely to be vast.

In the longer term, manganese nodule deposits could be worth more than $200 billion. And estimates had shown New Zealand could earn up to $100 billion from hydrocarbons.

“ The true value of these resources will depend on the future market price relative to extraction costs, and there will be major technological challenges in reducing these costs to economically feasible levels.”

Mr Blakeley said many countries were experiencing growth in their marine industries that was at least twice that of their national economic growth.

“Australia, which is some years ahead of us in development of its marine industries, has experienced annual growth rates of about 8 percent in real terms for its marine sector over the past decade.”

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, New Zealand had until July 2006 to lodge a claim to extend its economic zone. A successful claim could give New Zealand jurisdiction over six million square kilometres of ocean floor, or about 1 percent of the Earth’s surface.

“Although there is a seabed mapping programme underway, there is still much to be done.”

There were opportunities for better co-ordination of activities in this area. There was also a lot more to learn about the scale of resources and the technological challenges in assessing and developing them.

The CAE has organised the “Our Oceans” conference in Wellington next week (October 12 & 13) to highlight New Zealand’s marine opportunities and share ideas among interested groups.

“ We will be drawing strongly on world trends and experience – eight of the 20 speakers are from overseas.”


John Blakeley
Centre for Advanced Engineering
University of Canterbury
Ph: 03-364-2179 (direct)
03-364-2478 (reception)

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