I have been watching with interest the developments over on the West Coast as the local community moves closer to becoming the first to implement a regional marine protection framework under the Marine Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan.
About a year ago, the West Coast Marine Protection Forum released a consultation document and called for submissions. This document represented a huge effort by a number of different stakeholders, who had been researching, consulting and debating on the issues around this enormous task since 2005. Having taken a year to consider 1300 submissions, the Forum has recently made recommendations to the Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries about the approach to marine protection over an area that extends all the way from Kahurangi in the north, to south of Jackson’s Bay.
- The recomended locations for the four MPAs (in red) and additional educational showcase sites (in blue)
Whilst the Forum has successfully managed to agree upon the locations of four marine protected areas (MPAs), they were unable to reach a consensus about the boundaries of these and the levels of marine protection within each. So instead of presenting the Ministers with a decisive and cohesive package of protected areas, they have provided two or three options for each site. These typically consist of an option that is not far removed from that in the consultation document (2009), and then one or two alternative options that are heavily influenced by either the commercial fishing sector or environmental interests. Not surprisingly, the “fishing option” is reduced in size and/or the level of protection (such as allowing some types of fishing to carry on), and the “environmental option” typically incorporates a larger area with a higher proportion of that to be no take marine reserve.
Perhaps the most extreme example of the influence of commercial fishers versus environmentalists is the MPA at Kahurangi. Here, Option A covers an area of 665 km², and extends from the tide line to about 20 km offshore. Option B, which wasn’t presented in the original consultation document, covers 85 km² and extends 5 km offshore. Sorry, but I’m not taking any bets on who influenced Option B.
The Forum has stated that due to the conflicting views both within the Forum and from submitters, they were unable to reach a consensus about the boundaries and protection levels at each site. So it will be very interesting to see how the Ministers respond to such polarized recommendations – surely they have to give a very high weighting to the target of 10% of the New Zealand marine environment being protected?
The commercial fishing sector has apparently argued that without some form of financial compensation for reduced fishing grounds, the industry is in effect giving without receiving any form of gain. The Gifts versus Gains approach was central to making progress by the Guardians of Fiordland’s Fisheries and the Marine Environment, and in my view requires all involved to take a step back and look at the big picture. For the fishers, rather than looking merely at the reduction in fishable area as potential lost income, perhaps they could consider the gains that are likely in terms of improved chances of long term sustainability of fisheries due to the many proven benefits of MPAs for fisheries (such as providing refuge for adults and protected space for juveniles).
Whatever the outcome, there are some very positive aspects to the Forum’s recommendations from a scientific perspective. The first of these, is that the area of the West Coast under marine reserve protection is definitely going to increase. Without a doubt. Currently with a huge 0% (she says sarcastically) of the coastal area in marine reserves, things can only improve from here.
In my opinion, one of the coolest things about the proposed MPAs is their proximity to National Parks. All of the four proposed MPA sites are situated alongside National Parks, and this will provide for a continuum of protection from, in many cases, the tops of mountains, to the depths of the sea. If Option B at the Gorge site is accepted, it will be the first MPA in the country to provide protection from the tide line to the edge of the continental shelf, where underwater canyons abound. Ecologists have increasingly been demonstrating the importance of such connectivity for processes including the movement of energy and animals, and the functioning of lovely healthy ecosystems that extend far beyond the immediate environment. Yes, that reef you’re snorkeling on is vulnerable to the state of the environment up in the hills, and to some extent vice versa.
I could rabbit on about marine protection and the situation on the West Coast for ages… Oh whoops, it seems I already have! But as you may have guessed, this is an area I’m particularly passionate about. Time for you guys to put your two cents in – I look forward to your comments and questions. Anything that gives me an opportunity to write more…