by Gareth Hughes
Seaweek 2012 is upon us and it’s a good time to reflect on the health of our oceans.
We are a coastal nation and have a close affinity to the sea. We love to gather kai moana, fish and play. Oceans cover 70% of our planet and represent over 95% of the biosphere and New Zealand, our waters are particularly special.
Our oceans however are at risk. Last week an important report was released, showing the Earth’s oceans may be acidifying faster than at any point during the last 300 million years due to industrial emissions, endangering marine life from oysters and reefs to sea-going salmon. Current New Zealand fisheries practises risk our valuable international brand. From foreign slave ships, to endangered sea lion by-catch to dead dolphins our fisheries are increasingly questioned globally and being boycotted.
In New Zealand we stand on the edge of risky deep-sea oil drilling. The Government is selling New Zealand cheaply with one of the most business-friendly drilling regimes in the world. Drillers are investigating the Great South Basin, between the ‘roaring forties and furious fifties’ and the seismically active Raukumara Basin, to get that last fix of oil despite the cost, hostile environment and significant risks. Both could see exploratory wells drilled in excess of 1000m down, which could lead to deep, deep trouble.
If there is a leak from a deep sea oil rig there is no easy way to stop it especially in remote, hostile environments like the Great South Basin. The Rena demonstrated our oil pollution response isn’t adequate for even a moderate spill. The consequence for New Zealand’s environment, economy and reputation would be catastrophic. The Government’s new Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill wont plug a spill, won’t meet our international obligation to ‘protect and preserve’ our EEZ, and will simply facilitate deep-sea drilling and sea floor mining. It could be called more honestly the ‘E-Z Drilling Bill’.
It’s not all stormy seas however. Healthy oceans are also an economic opportunity. As I pointed out in a speech to the fishing industry last year, sustainability isn’t a luxury, it’s should be heart of a vibrant Kiwi fishing industry. The United Nations Environment Programme in a recent report said, ‘Cleaner and better-managed seas and coasts would help boost economic growth and reduce poverty and pollution.’ With a marine area twenty times larger than our land area New Zealand can be a world leader selling our expertise in conservation, marine technologies and marine tourism to the world.
What we need is a reform of our fisheries legislation, ambitious targets for marine reserves including the pristine Ross Sea, protection for threatened animals like Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins and the New Zealand Sea Lion, an end to shark-finning, and true oceans protection legislation not an E-Z Drilling Bill.