by Gareth Hughes
Today the Australian Government announced the creation of the world’s largest network of marine reserves, covering 3.1 million square kilometres of ocean including the entire Coral Sea! The marine reserves will protect a third of Australia’s territorial waters. It’s amazing news for the oceans, and a responsible move by the Australian Government.
Unfortunately here in New Zealand, our oceans aren’t quite so lucky. While Australia focuses on marine conservation to ensure healthy oceans, a vibrant tourism market and a sustainable fishing industry, here in New Zealand our Government is focused on risky deep sea oil drilling.
The Exclusive Economic Zone Bill is being debated in Parliament this month, and it is so weak it is simply an E-Z deep sea drilling bill. Meanwhile the Marine Reserves Bill continues to languish in select committee (setting a record for the second longest period any bill has been stuck there in our Parliament’s history).
Last week the Government announced a further 40,198 km2 were to be opened up to deep sea oil drilling, meaning 4.6% of our waters are open to risky drilling and mining practices currently, whereas only 0.4% of our waters are protected.
While Australia creates marine reserves the New Zealand Government is rejecting them. Fortunately the High Court stepped in and directed the Minister of Conservation to reconsider her decision to reject a marine reserve in Akaroa and it will be interesting to see her new decision.
The Government can protect and preserve our waters. The Government could be a conservation hero by protecting the vulnerable and precious Kermadec Islands. This would be one of the world’s ten largest marine reserves and would only remove approximately $100,000 of fishing annually.
While the Australian Government is taking a longer term view on the issue and taking steps to safeguard oceans, our Government is allowing set-net fishing to continue while our Maui dolphin teeter on the brink of extinction and refusing to protect endangered species like sea lions by relaxing by-catch limits.
We can catch up with Australia on marine conservation.