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NZ’s Waters Declared Hope Spot to Protect Last Maui Dolphins

New Zealand’s coastal waters have today been declared a marine Hope Spot by international conservation alliance Mission Blue. Dr Barbara Maas from the German conservation group NABU International Conservation Foundation together with New Zealand dolphin expert Prof. Elisabeth Slooten from the University of Otago had championed the recognition of the area as a Hope Spot in support of urgent protection measures to prevent the extinction of Māui and Hector’s dolphins. The announcement comes on the day the New Zealand Department of Conservation and Ministry of Primary Industries meet in Auckland to discuss urgent new protection measures for the species.

The new Hope Spot covers most of New Zealand’s more than 17,000 km coastline up to a depth of 100 meters. It ranges from subtropical in the north to subantarctic in the south and features spectacles of outstanding natural beauty both above and below the water line. These rich waters also boast a spectacular variety of marine species, many of which are rare and can be found nowhere else. New Zealand sea lions, yellow-eyed and little blue penguins, fairy terns, Buller’s and Royal albatross, as well as population of at least 718 pygmy blue whales that was only recently confirmed as a New Zealand resident. It also touches the migratory paths of some of the great whales, as well as long-finned pilot whales, white sharks, basking sharks and spinetail devil rays. Māui and Hector’s dolphins in particular have captured the hearts of New Zealanders and the international community alike. They have also drawn increasing worldwide attention, as scientists watched their numbers decline sharply since the 1970s. Māui dolphins are now the rarest marine dolphins on Earth.
NABU International vice president Thomas Tennhardt welcomes the news. "We have been campaigning for a ban on gillnets and trawlers and an end to oil and gas exploration and extraction in the dolphins’ habitat in concert with international scientific institutions, for years. Under the motto ‘One for all! All for one!’, our Hope Spot is intended to help put in place long overdue measures to protect these unique waters and facilitate the dolphins’ recovery before it’s too late.”

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"Although there are only around 50 Māui dolphins left, just 19 percent of their habitat is protected from fishing with gillnets and just five percent from trawling," explains Dr Barbara Maas, Head of Endangered Species Conservation at NABU International. "Under these conditions, the dolphins’ extinction is inevitable and time is running out.”

“We are grateful for the support for this species from across the world, including New Zealand conservation groups Our Seas Our Future Charitable Trust, the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust and Maori group Kia Kaha!,” says Maas. New Zealand has a reputation as a leader in cetacean conservation, biodiversity protection and sustainability. It is time for the government to bring protection measures for its only endemic dolphin into line with international scientific advice, or risk its credibility.”

World renowned oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle first launched the Hope Spots programme in 2009 to generate public support for a global network of marine protected areas. While around 12 percent of the world's land area enjoys some form of protection, less than six percent of the ocean is protected in any way. Hope Spots are intended to bring about a significant increase in ocean protection from less than 6% today to 30% by the year 2030.

“We only have one chance to get it right with the Hector’s and Māui dolphins – and that time is now,” said Dr Sylvia Earle. “With the declaration of New Zealand’s Coastal Waters as a Mission Blue Hope Spot, perhaps we can all come together and do what it takes to keep these magnificent and rare dolphins away from the brink of extinction.”

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