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New Zealand: Ocean Sanctuary Announced

(Sept. 30, 2015) On September 28, 2015, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced that a new, fully-protected ocean sanctuary in the Kermadec region will be established by legislation to be enacted next year. The sanctuary will cover about 620,000 square kilometers (about 385,250 square miles) within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, an area amounting to about 15% of the Zone and twice the landmass of the country itself. (Press Release, John Key, PM Announces Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (Sept. 29, 2015), BEEHIVE.GOVT.NZ.)

The Kermadec region of the South Pacific Ocean is situated about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) northeast of New Zealand. A marine reserve, established in 1990 under the Marine Reserves Act 1971, currently exists in the 12 nautical miles around the Kermadec Islands (being part of New Zealand’s territorial sea), with all fishing and mining prohibited in that area. (Marine Reserve (Kermadec Islands) Order 1990, New Zealand Legislation website; Marine Reserves Act 1971, New Zealand Legislation website.) This reserve will remain in place following the establishment of the new Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. (Questions and Answers: Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Ministry for the Environment website (last visited Sept. 28, 2015).) Outside of the marine reserve, some fishing restrictions currently exist under New Zealand regulations applicable to the particular fisheries management area. (Auckland and Kermadec Fishing Rules, Ministry for Primary Industries website (last visited Sept. 2, 2015); Fisheries (Auckland and Kermadec Areas Commercial Fishing) Regulations 1986, New Zealand Legislation website; Fisheries (Benthic Protection Areas) Regulations 2007, New Zealand Legislation website.)

The fully-protected status of the new sanctuary will mean that all fishing activities, as well as “oil, gas and mineral prospecting, exploration and mining,” will be prohibited in the much larger area. (Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Ministry for the Environment website (last visited Sept. 30, 2015).) Ships will be allowed, subject to regulation, to exchange ballast water and make marine discharges in the sanctuary area, but not in the area of the marine reserve. (Questions and Answers: Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, supra.)

The new sanctuary will be classified as Category I under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Areas classification system, making it a “strict nature reserve/wilderness area” – the highest category of protection. (Id.; IUCN Protected Areas Categories System, IUCN (last updated Jan. 15, 2014).)

Reactions to Creation of the Sanctuary

Matt Rand, director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Ocean Legacy project, stated, “New Zealand will create the gold standard of conservation areas in the Kermadecs, preserving one of the few relatively unspoiled areas of ocean on Earth.” (Oliver Milman, New Zealand’s New Ocean Sanctuary Will Be One of World’s Largest Protected Areas, THE GUARDIAN (Sept. 28, 2015).)

Some in the New Zealand commercial fishing industry criticized the decision to create the sanctuary. One operator stated that, given the existing restrictions in the Kermadec ocean area on fishing methods that might adversely impact the seabed, the only species affected would be tuna, which pass through in certain months of the year and which are already subject to a quota management system. (Bill Moore, Fishing Leader Slams Kermadec Decision, STUFF.CO.NZ (Sept. 29, 2015).)

A Cabinet paper proposing the establishment of the sanctuary states that commercial catch with an export value of about NZ$165,000 (about US$104,500) is caught in the area each year, with the species targeted being highly migratory and primarily already caught in other areas. The paper therefore argues that “fishing interests will not be significantly impacted” by the establishment of the sanctuary. No compensation will be paid to the relevant quota owners. (Hon. Dr. Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, Establishment of a Kermadec Ocean Strategy 7–9 (Cabinet Paper submitted to Cabinet Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee, Sept. 10, 2015), Ministry for the Environment website.)