Goat Island, the site of New Zealand's first marine reserve. Photo from Wikipedia.
Andrew Penniket calls for an end to the ''stalling'' which
he says is blocking the establishment of Otago marine
When it comes to protecting our seas, Otago is the most
backward region in the country.
It is now nearly 40 years since New Zealand's first marine
reserve was created at Goat Island, in Northland.
This reserve is visited by more than 200,000 people each year
including dozens of school groups and it has resulted in well
over 100 scientific papers.
Around New Zealand there are now more than 30 marine reserves
(complete no-take areas closed to all fishing and harvesting)
- even Canterbury has a marine reserve, but there is not a
single one in Otago.
Some would argue that there are other ways of protecting the
sea - quota limits for commercial fishing, size and catch
limits for recreational fishing, taiapure - but these are
simply ways of managing fisheries. None of these approaches
protects intact healthy populations where animals can reach
large size and have maximum breeding output. Only marine
reserves can do this.
Marine reserves - who needs them? Well, in my opinion, we all
do. Firstly, - for education. If we want our children to grow
up respecting the environment they need to be able to see
healthy habitats where they can interact with marine life -
blue cod, kina and crayfish.
Nothing convinces one of the need for marine reserves more
than watching a child emerge from the sea bubbling with
enthusiasm and their eyes out on stalks. It is just not the
same on a typical stretch of fished coast where, if they are
lucky, they might catch a glimpse of fleeing fish.
Marine reserves are essential for research purposes -
scientific study needs undisturbed populations to measure
parameters such as growth rates, fecundity and to gauge
natural mortality. Protected areas are also important to work
out food web linkages - like the importance of crayfish for
controlling numbers of kina - sea eggs, which help determine
the amount of kelp forest, which affects the amount of fish
Marine reserves provide baselines for monitoring of
populations - to separate mortality due to fishing from other
possible background effects like pollution, global warming,
diseases and sediment deposition.
Marine reserves are a magnet for tourism. The Goat Island
Marine Reserve supports cafes, dive centres, glass-bottom
boats, motels and shops. Likewise, the Poor Knights Marine
Reserve pumps millions into the local economy and supports
more than 100 jobs.
Waters protected by marine reserves become breeding
sanctuaries where animals like cod, moki and crayfish can
grow to become large adults. It is well known that in the
marine world large individuals produce many times the number
of larvae than smaller, younger fish can - with crayfish up
to 25 times the number. And from these sanctuaries larvae are
carried by currents to repopulate the adjacent coastline.
So who is to blame for Otago being so far behind the rest of
the country? There is no question there has been opposition
to marine reserves in the past and often it is a case of not
knowing what we are missing out on. But ultimately central
government has been lacking leadership and, in the last seven
years, stalling again and again by creating a convoluted
obstacle course of bureaucracy.
In 2005, the Department of Conservation was close to
announcing a proposal to make the Nuggets area in South Otago
a marine reserve but the politicians got cold feet and a few
days before it was due to be announced they called a
moratorium on any new marine reserve proposals.
First of all, it was said that there would be a forum of
representatives from various interest groups (fishers,
conservationists, scientists) to look at potential areas.
This was a good idea but several months were spent with no
progress and then it was shelved when another process was
instigated: to establish guidelines and standards. But it
took until 2007 for the guidelines and standards to be
written, debated, submitted upon and then another year before
anything was announced.
Then, suddenly, a new requirement popped up - what was really
needed, we were told, was a ''gaps analysis'' - an extensive
survey to determine which areas and habitats do not have any
This seemed to many people to be a particular waste of time
and money since we already knew there are no marine reserves
in Otago. At the beginning of 2009, we were told the analysis
should be complete by July 2009 and now it is October 2012
and still nothing has been presented - nothing to show for
more than three years' work.
The gaps analysis is rumoured to be finished but until the
Government makes a commitment to Otago nothing can be done.
No individual or group can afford the expensive rounds of
advertising, consultation, proposal preparation, submission
analysis, readvertising, reconsultation, more analysis,
further refinement and further advertising that are required
for the marine reserve process.
So what are we waiting for?
Essentially, we need to tell politicians and bureaucrats in
Wellington that Otago's seas are important - and it seems the
only way that is going to happen is to make it an election
Mr Penniket is a member of the Otago Conservation Board
and an underwater film-maker, with a lifelong interest in
marine reserves. He has dived in many parts of the Pacific
and most of New Zealand's marine reserves.