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Season 4 Marine Mammal Management Plan Bolsters Protections For Dolphins During SailGP On Whakaraupō

14 March 2024: Developed by SailGP, together with Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke and with input from the Department of Conservation, a revised Marine Mammal Management Plan (MMMP) for the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix is now available publicly. The event will be held on Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour, 23-24 March 2024.

The purpose of the plan is to protect the Upokohue/Hector’s dolphins, the precious taonga of Whakaraupō, during the running of the event, and to comply with the relevant Marine Mammals Protection Regulations. The revised operational plan for 2024 builds on the comprehensive MMMP for the 2023 event, developed under the guidance of the advisory group Te Roopu Tiaki Whakaraupō, including marine mammal experts from the Cawthron Institute, Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury, the University of Otago and Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke. The MMMP for Season 3 is available as Appendix A of the Season 4 operations plan and for complete understanding, both should be read together.

Several key changes have strengthened the operational plan, based on lessons learned during last year’s inaugural event on Whakaraupō. The primary modifications are:

  • The appointment of an independent decision maker to oversee the delivery of the integrity of the plan in all training and racing scenarios. That includes the power to delay or pause racing in line with agreed protocols.
  • The simplification of the zonal response system to better align with event operations - in doing so, increasing the speed and effectiveness of race response. Based on the learnings from Season 3, observation efforts have been concentrated around the event area to further increase the ability to track any mammal sightings in the vicinity of racing.
  • The number of on-land and on-water observers have increased alongside a greater concentration on land-based observation stations around the event area. Trial measures, including real-time acoustic listening and drone-aided surveys, will not be used as they proved less effective than traditional observation in this unique and dynamic context.
  • A 300m extension of the shutdown zone has been included around the full perimeter of the racecourse boundary to ensure boats travelling above 5 knots do not come within 300 metres of a marine mammal.
  • Additional educational measures and briefings by DOC to SailGP athletes and on-water users.
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The independent decision-maker in the Event Control Room is Jared Pettersson, director of Enviser Ltd, environmental consultancy. Pettersson is the lead author of the MMMP and his role is to oversee its implementation.

As part of its better sport, better planet ethos, SailGP develops marine mammal management plans for every city it visits, including Christchurch. As the owners of the plan, SailGP invested significantly to develop a robust protection plan for the 2023 event and to improve it for this year. The operational plan is a living document which means it may be updated prior to racing. The development of the plan for Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour is part of the host city agreement between SailGP and ChristchurchNZ.

Andrew Thompson, SailGP Managing Director said: “SailGP is pleased to share the marine mammal management plan for this year’s event. Developed with our partners and under the guidance of some of New Zealand’s leading experts, this year’s plan builds on robust measures which worked well in Season 3, as well as what we now know about delivering events in this unique marine environment. It’s an industry-leading example of SailGP’s commitment to the environments in which we operate.”

“Last year’s event delivered significant benefits regionally and nationally - from driving millions in visitor spend, to providing an enduring legacy for the local community. We look forward to staging another fantastic showcase on Lyttelton Harbour in the coming weeks.”

Mishele Radford, Chair of Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke, Rāpaki said: “As mana whenua and kaitiaki of Whakaraupō, Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke is working in good faith with SailGP and ChristchurchNZ.

“Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke agreed to review and provide input into the revised Marine Mammal Management Plan. Our input underscores our commitment to safeguard our taonga species, in particular, the Hector’s dolphins.

“The successful implementation of the revised MMMP is critical for the protection of our taonga, the safety of all marine mammals, and ultimately the success of SailGP 2024.”

ChristchurchNZ General Manager of Destination and Attraction Loren Aberhart said that as the host city agency, the most important priority has been the safety of the Hector’s dolphins.

“As was shown by last year’s 45-minute delay to the racing to wait for Hector’s dolphins to leave the course during the broadcast window, the MMMP prioritises marine mammal safety over racing. We are pleased at the spirit of collaboration and a shared desire to make the plan even more robust for 2024 between SailGP, Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke and the Department of Conservation and we thank them for their work to revise the plan.

“This plan is a legacy benefit for the city, not just for this event but also as an important driver of knowledge about how to better protect our region’s taonga species in the future.”

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