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Marine reserves protect the marine environment

Marine reserves protect the marine environment – new report

They are worth the wait - the science on New Zealand marine reserves shows that they enhance the marine environment.

During this year the Conservation Department has been collating information on scientific monitoring at 12 marine reserves around the country.

“The department’s monitoring shows significant improvements in marine environmental values within our marine reserves,” Felicity Wong of DOC’s Marine Conservation Unit said today (release date.)

For example, at Cape Rodney-Okakari, (Leigh) snapper are now significantly more abundant and bigger within the 518 ha marine reserve than immediately outside this area. While lobster abundance within the marine reserve is also up, kina abundance has decreased, allowing depleted seaweed forests to regenerate.

Marine Conservation Unit manager Felicity Wong said that results like this backed up extensive experience with marine reserves overseas, and confirmed scientific predictions at home.

“Marine reserves were set up to establish examples of New Zealand’s marine environment, to create an undersea equivalent of national parks and to allow benchmarked scientific research. That science now says that they are doing the job that they were set up to do.”

The Government’s Biodiversity Strategy, released in 2000, specified a goal of protecting a full range of natural marine habitats and ecosystems by 2010. With the announcement of Te Wharawhara (Ulva Island) marine reserve at Rakiura/Stewart Island earlier this year a further step was taken towards meeting the goal of 10%. Two marine reserves, around the Auckland and Kermadec Islands however are a significant proportion of that protection and are very inaccessible.

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“The area protected around mainland New Zealand is equivalent in area to only two thirds of New Zealand’s smallest national park on land (Abel Tasman),” Ms Wong said. “We have an obligation to protect our marine environment for future generations.

Marine reserves are about facilitating changes towards a more natural marine environment by removing targeted human pressures, and not necessarily about greater abundances of each species. Overtime, numbers of different species may go up or down with natural variation.

Each marine reserve offers unique opportunities for scientific research and each one will yield different results because the environment in each is different, Ms Wong said. Changes did not occur overnight. Even after 30 years environmental changes would still be expected to occur.

Questions and Answers

Does the government want 10% of the New Zealand waters to be in reserve status by 2010? Is that to be 10% of the coastline out to the 12 mile limit or 10% of the total NZ water out to the 200 mile limit?

It is Government policy (New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000) to protect 10% of New Zealand’s marine environment by 2010 in a network of representative protected areas. This includes all New Zealand waters out to the limits of the EEZ or 200-mile limit. But this area won’t necessarily be all marine reserves – there are other protection mechanisms that may contribute to this target such as fisheries management areas.

Why do we need to protect marine areas?

The ocean risks losing its balance if too many fish, sea-weed, sand or rocks are removed or excessive sewage, chemical wastes and sediment runoff occurs. It is important to conserve the health and natural character and quality of the coastal and marine environment. One way to achieve this is through a representative network of marine protected areas of different marine ecosystems.

There is increasing evidence that ocean ecosystems are being altered beyond their range of natural variation by a combination of human activities, including fishing, pollution, and coastal development. Marine reserves complement existing coastal and ocean management and provide the highest level of protection

MRs have been shown to aid the recovery of species populations and habitats from exploitation, and environmental stresses.

Who benefits from a marine reserve?

Firstly the main beneficiaries are the species within the marine reserve who will ultimately be able to exist in a natural and balanced ecosystem without external pressures. Secondly, enabling all New Zealanders, now and in the future, to experience a balanced ecosystem and thirdly, researchers who can develop a better marine scientific understanding.

What are the benefits of marine reserves observed to date?

Research is showing that organisms in reserves show differences in behaviour, size, abundance, and in some cases habitat organisation between reserve and non-reserve areas. For the future marine protected areas will provide broad benefits as sites for reference in long term research to understand marine ecosystems and ecosystem services. In summary marine reserves: Protect marine biodiversity Provide a benchmark to measure the impacts of development elsewhere; Help improve our knowledge of marine ecosystems and how they work; Allow current and future generations to be assured of the protection of intrinsic values, including those of marine wilderness; Can contribute to community economic development through eco-based tourism; Maintain genetic diversity of marine species.

What is the time frame for a marine reserve to establish a stable ecosystem?

While changes to individual species in a reserve following protection are often rapid, it can take 15 - 30 years or longer to establish more stable and natural food webs.

6. Why aren’t all the Marine Reserves monitored?

It is important to establish marine reserves in areas that have unique characteristics not necessarily for convenience. It is an issue of balancing remoteness against resource availability. The Department of Conservation aims to have a minimum baseline monitoring in all reserves, but in practice some reserves will have more active science programmes than others.

What monitoring surveys of the underwater habitat are carried out and by whom?

The surveys are usually carried out by scientists with expertise relevant to the habitat type or marine species in question. The marine science community in New Zealand is small and individual scientists may work for government agencies,universities, CRI’s or private research companies.

Are surveys conducted more than once in a season as conditions and fish life will change during the year?

Frequency varies as surveys are designed with specific research objectives to monitor the variations in type of habitat and marine species in a particular area.

Isn’t the primary purpose of a marine reserve to counter the effects of fishing?

No. This is an often held misunderstanding. The primary purpose of marine reserves is to conserve the total natural ecosystems and biodiversity of the coastal and marine environment, which in itself is justification, and also for New Zealanders to enjoy, and for research purposes. Fish, of course, are part of the mix.

Why have marine reserves when the degradation of the marine environment is contributed to by pollution and sediment run off?

Many estuarine habitats have been lost or damaged through land reclamation and development. Addressing these threats involves cooperating with other management authorities onshore. The Department of Conservation is concerned about the impacts of the terrestrial runoff and pollution and actively intervenes on these issues at resource consent hearings under the Resource Management Act 1991. There are also some excellent local community based initiatives for replanting coastal areas and waterways. These are demonstrating huge benefits for harbours (e.g. Whaingaroa (Raglan) Harbour).

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