New report reveals Aotearoa's waters face crisis, authors want sweeping, urgent reform

A new report on the state of our oceans has called for an overhaul of the rules, saying the current system to protect the valuable resource is "complex, confusing and fragmented". 

The major report is the culmination of two years of research by the Environmental Defence Society, with the authors stating we're facing a crisis that requires sweeping and urgent reform. 

The vast waters around Aotearoa are home to 17,000 species, but the laws that enable them to thrive are blurred. 

The policy director for the Environmental Defence Society and report co-author Raewyn Peart said the framework is "quite confusing". 

"It's very complex. I think it's very hard for the average person to even know how we manage our marine area. There are gaps, there are overlaps."

The report outlines problems and highlights our fragmented rules. 

"It's a real hodgepodge of all kinds of pieces of legislation that have evolved over decades. We have a Marine Reserves Act from 1971. We have a Wildlife Act from 1953 that's supposedly protecting our seabirds."

One example is, in 2010, when ships were hitting Brydge Whales in Auckland, four different agencies had powers to act to make vessels slow down. 

But "overlap can lead to paralysis," they say, and not one of those agencies took action. 

The report authors state that "siloed thinking" is no longer working and change is needed fast as Aotearoa faces a marine biodiversity crisis. 

The crisis includes:

  • The equivalent of "35 million truckloads of sediment" entering the sea annually
  • Many coastal landfills are draining toxic material into estuaries
  • The sea is warming, increasing the acidity of oceans and making it harder for species to survive
  • Eighty percent of shorebirds are at risk of, or threatened with, extinction
  • Our "fetish" for plastic has led to significant amounts being eaten by marine animals.

"We are at the crux of a biodiversity crisis that abuts the climate crisis that we're in, so there's a lot of work to be done here," Conservation Minister Kiri Allan said. 

The report suggests establishing an Oceans Act, bringing together parts of the RMA, the Fisheries and Marine Mammals Act, and others. 

It's proposed we create an Environmental Defenders Office and given resources to undertake public interest litigation. 

There are also calls to introduce a Ministry for Oceans, drawing together existing functions of the Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation and the Environment Ministry. 

"What I have asked of my officials, they'll take the report away and extract what's practical, what's necessary, what's a priority and then feed that back to us," Allan said. 

Peart said reform is needed now. 

"It's been left languishing for far too many years, it's really the last cab off the rank."

And getting the wheels turning on cohesive legislation is a good place to start.