New Zealand Announces Plans to Expand the Kermadec Marine Sanctuary to the Size of France

by Owen James Burke

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Above: A rizzo’s dolphin which came to play off the bow of Tindori. This species of dolphin is only found in the waters surrounding New Zealand. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Just the other day, I came home from a fishing trip after being swarmed by dolphins, sharks, whales, fish and gannets to find out that New Zealand President John Key had announced the island-nation’s plans to establish one of the largest marine reserves in the world. I may have been in the Marlborough Sounds over 1,000 miles southwest of the proposed reserve, but I couldn’t help but feel hopeful that these creatures, too, will benefit from this vast new sanctuary. -OJB

The tropical waters surrounding New Zealand’s Kermadec Islands are some of the most biodiverse–and pristine–seas remaining on this big blue marble. Millions of seabirds, over 150 species of fish, and some 35 species of whales and dolphins, along with three endangered sea turtles, countless corals, shellfish and crustaceans.

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Above: The new boundaries for the Kermadec Island Marine Sanctuary. Map: The Pew Charitable Trust/BBC.

The five islands were originally established as a 7,500 square kilometer (nearly 3,000 square miles) marine reserve in 1990, but with the decline of certain species, increased fishing pressure, and in light of campaigns by environmental groups like The Pew Charitable Trust and The World Wildlife Fund, the reserve, announced New Zealand President John Key, will soon cover 620,000 square kilometers–over 80 times its current size. If implemented (the boundaries are set to take place next year), the Kermadec Islands would be surrounded by one of the world’s largest marine reserves, alongside the nearby Pitcairn Islands.

Chatter has spread quickly, and many seamen are not terribly pleased with the new fishing restrictions; just yesterday, a disgruntled (retired) old-timer was kvetching to a fellow fisherman over my shoulder. His former colleague stopped him short: “You remember how flustered everyone was when they lowered the cray (spiny lobster) quota? Now look at ’em. Bloody things are everywhere, AND we’re getting $130 NZD/kilo for them. The same thing will happen with the fish. They’re creating a big breeding ground, and a nursery.” ‘Nuff said.

The area is also said to hold potential for massive oil and natural gas reserves, which will also now be off-limits. Perhaps this will provide some refuge for the dwindling Hector’s or Maui dolphin population, known in Māori as tutumairekurai (“special ocean dweller”) and aihe, whose numbers have reportedly dipped below 1,000, dangerously close to extinction (not unlike their cousins across the Pacific, the vaquita).

Read more about President Key’s announcement and plans for the Kermadecs at Stuff.co.nz. –OJB

 

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