Photo: The Kermadec Kahawai is endemic to the the south-western Pacific Ocean. Very little information is known about the biology of this species. Credit: Bruce Deagle (CC BY)

Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary plans scrapped – Expert Reaction

The government removed the long-contested Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill from Parliament’s order paper this morning.

The news comes almost a decade after former Prime Minister John Key first announced plans for the 620,000km² sanctuary at the United Nations in 2015.

The SMC asked experts to comment. 

Professor Jonathan Gardner, Professor of Marine Biology (Adjunct), School of Biological Sciences, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“Today’s decision from the coalition government to not proceed with the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (more recently known as the Rangitāhua/ Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary) is a massive loss for marine conservation efforts and for New Zealand. The sanctuary was first announced by then National PM John Key at the UN in New York, in September 2015. The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary bill had its first reading in March 2016 but progress has been stalled since then.

“The Kermadec region is characterised by a unique mix of warm temperate, subtropical and tropical species found nowhere else in the world, and many of the species are endemic to (found only in) New Zealand. It is New Zealand’s responsibility to protect them and the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary provided a wonderful opportunity to achieve a major global conservation win at very little cost. The region has not been subject to much fishing activity over the years, and although it is rich in minerals (associated with the active geology of the Kermadec chain)  it has not yet been subject to mining. As such, the region is biodiverse, remote, not inhabited by a permanent population, and about as pristine as anywhere in the marine realm.

“Establishment of a sanctuary here would have been a major achievement for New Zealand and would have added to international marine conservation efforts to establish a series of very large (and often remote) marine protected areas in the world’s oceans.

“Minister Jones’ statement that the sanctuary, had it been established, would be a ‘no-go area for Kiwis making their living from the sea’ overstates the present situation because very few Kiwis presently make their living in this area. Development of activities such as commercial fishing and mining will harm the region’s marine biodiversity (such as deep-sea habitat-forming corals) and, depending on the scale of these activities, will potentially lead to irreparable damage and loss.”

Conflict of interest: “None, although I have visited the Kermadecs twice for research.”