Surely everyone knows that marine reserves are good – right?!
After diving at Goat Island Marine Reserve over the weekend and enjoying all the rather large snapper and abundant fish life it had on offer, it just seems so obvious. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been seeing marine reserves in the news quite a bit and naturally, I’m hugely interested in these and follow them quite closely. What I read has compelled me to write the following post for those who may not realise just how beneficial marine reserves really are (warning: facts ahead!).
New Zealand is an island country in the Pacific Ocean, made up of two main land masses and around 600 smaller islands, this means that we have extensive coastlines and marine resources. New Zealand has one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in the world. It is approximately 15 times the size of our land area, totalling approximately 4,083,744 km2.
In case anyone isn’t too sure what an Exclusive Economic Zone actually is – it’s the sea zone prescribed to a country over which it has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. It stretches out 200 nautical miles from a countries coast. Sometimes, it may include the continental shelf, and if so, this would make our EEZ even larger! (As of 2012 the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill is undergoing submissions in NZ to extend our zone).
So now that you have an idea of how vast our marine area is, let’s have a look at how much of that we currently protect…. oh, like 5%.
This is a very topical discussion at the moment as it’s recently been making headlines that the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary that was announced in 2015 has now been put on hold by the new government coalition. The 620,000 km2 sanctuary would have been one of the most significant and largest protected marine areas in the world. If it does go ahead, it will be 35 times larger than the combined area of New Zealand’s existing 44 marine reserves. The sanctuary would mean 15 percent of New Zealand’s ocean environment would be fully protected.
Sure, yea, iwi may not have been consulted in the right way and we need to have further discussions there but the fishing industry shouldn’t be the ones to pull the pin. Sorry, no. The fact that our new Deputy Prime Minster was bank rolled through the election by private fishing companies….. and then the Sanctuary gets put on hold? Sounds fishy to me.
Right now, we are currently emptying our oceans faster than they can recover and we NEED these reserves to give our oceans time to replenish. Delaying a sanctuary like this and continuing to allow the area to be fished could be detrimental to our fish stocks. Just look at the orange roughy as an example.
Marine Reserves are intended as a conservation tool rather than a fisheries management tool, marine reserves protect all components of a marine ecosystem, helping to conserve biodiversity and allowing ecosystems to return to a more natural state.
Research surveys have shown increases in species diversity, abundance and size of many marine species in marine reserves around New Zealand. Snapper, blue cod, rock lobster and paua have all shown increases in abundance and size in reserve sites, compared to non-reserves sites in many marine reserves.
Surveys have also shown changes to seafloor communities. It has been proven that Marine Reserves areas previously dominated by urchin barrens (kina) have now become thriving macro-algae communities in a phenomenon known as a ‘phase shift’, thought to be attributed to increased abundances of snapper and rock lobster.
Coincidentally, in the same week the Kermadec Sanctuary being put on hold was announced, Auckland University released results to a four year study which proved that a local marine reserve, Goat Island, acts as a giant nursery for the wider fishery area in Leigh. Surprise surprise! It found about 11% of young snapper in a 40km radius of the reserve were offspring of adults that lived in the reserve. This proves that protected marine reserves are necessary and work to sustain fish populations.
I find it so incredibly frustrating how science can continue to be ignored in favour of dollars. We need to work towards getting a balance between fisheries and sustainability – otherwise there will be no fish left at the end of it all anyway and then what happens?!
Photo credit: Goat Island Dive & Snorkel (banner pic) and Ministry for the Environment (Kermadec facts)