Marine scheme means pain for some

We have an interesting approach to nature reserves in New Zealand. Where older countries may include long-standing practices of human life in nature reserves, in New Zealand, humans are largely seen as the problems and are effectively banished.

For some areas - like Little Barrier Island in the north of the country - simply gaining access is all but impossible for most people. In others, access is permitted but strict activity guidelines must be adhered to.

So it will be for several areas around the South's coast, following the introduction of new marine reserves likely to come into effect next year. It is proposed 1267sq km from Timaru to Waipapa Point, in Southland, will be enclosed in the new reserve network.

It will include six marine reserves where both commercial and recreational fishing are banned, and five ''type two marine protection areas'' allowing most recreational fishing and some commercial fishing, depending on the method.

That we treat environmental protection in such a way is no bad thing. We are a young country - the first of us arrived just 800 years ago. Even then, the human population stayed small for centuries until significant migration in the last 100 years.

That has left us unique among nations. Much of our biodiversity is ill-adapted to human co-existence. Much of it is still largely as it was prior to our arrival. The same can't be said for many other inhabited parts of the world.

Therefore, our responses must be somewhat unique. Remarkably, we still have the chance to keep vast parts of our country similar to their pre-human state. That takes widespread support and large dollops of cash, but the country has been willing to contribute both over the years. The marine environment, though, has generally not been afforded as much protection as forest and alpine areas.

Since our arrival our coastlines have been feeding and housing us. With the bulk of our easily-hunted birds obliterated within the first few generations of settlement, it was to the coast we went looking for survival. We found it, and we have been finding it ever since.

That culture of a sea-faring, coast-hugging nation means many of our people's deepest connections with place are with the sea, the coast, the traditional family fishing spot, the rocks and the shallows.

As ever, when laws alter lifestyles, there are winners and losers. While, in this instance, it is to be assumed commercial fishing operations will quickly adapt, adapting will be harder for many recreational users of these areas.

With more travelling, more crowded fishing spots and the removal of traditional food-gathering areas used by the same families for generations, change will be felt keenly by some.

Meanwhile, we continue to encourage a constant growth in sea-bound trade, commercial fishing and sea-based tourism. We let oils, heavy metals, litter and more run down our urban drains. There are many ways we could better protect our waters beyond new marine reserves.

But governments are big bodies using blunt instruments to - as best they can - bring about the change the country wants and needs.

It seems reasonable to infer from the relatively muted response to the South's marine protection proposals that the vast majority consider the changes to be worthy. Certainly, for a country which prides itself on being as close to Eden as any nation on Earth, it is hard to find serious fault with the planned reserves.

But we would do well to keep in mind that there are real, significant human concerns involved too.

Minorities should never be ignored, not in a nation striving for inclusiveness like ours. While a minority may have to adapt in the wake of these changes, future conversations and legislation would benefit from an appreciation the new marine protections simply are not fair for everyone.

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