Government scraps Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary plans, seabed mining now a possibility in 'pristine ecosystem'

Eight years after its inception, plans for the long-contested Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary are finally dead in the water.

Minister Shane Jones declared it would have created a 620,000 square kilometre "economic no-go zone" and he plans to take advice on whether to open it for seabed mining.

Plans to create the enormous marine sanctuary were first announced by Sir John Key at the United Nations in 2015.

He listed not getting it over the line as one of his great disappointments when he left Parliament, saying in his valedictory speech: "I hope that one day the Kermadecs will be an the ocean sanctuary so that long after we are all gone it remains pristine and untouched."

Now his former party with its coalition partners has scrapped the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary legislation.

Jones said the Government is focused on driving export-led growth by making the most of New Zealand's natural resources.

"We're not going to have the Kermadecs commandeered by a whole lot of test tube-watching white coat scientists," he told Newshub.

The proposal to protect an enormous chunk of New Zealand's ocean was met with great international fanfare eight years ago.

It ran aground after backlash from iwi and the fishing industry claiming a lack of proper consultation from the then National Party.

Adjunct Professor of Marine Biology Jonathan Gardner said it was that lack of consultation that stalled the whole initiative.

There is currently a marine reserve around the Kermadec Islands extending 12 nautical miles from the shores of the islands.

The Government says that is "ample protection".

The proposed ocean sanctuary would have taken the protection out to 200 nautical miles.

It's an important migratory route for whales and is home to the Galapagos shark, short-tailed sting rays, grouper and a native of the Indo-Pacific region, the garden eel.

Gardner said the Kermadec Island marine reserve isn't enough to cover all of the biodiversity and different habitat types that exist in what is "fundamentally a unique area in the world".

Jones said he'll take advice on whether to open the area for mining.

"The Kermadecs arc does have manganese nodules, but that's for another time and another day."

New Zealand is signed up to a global deal to protect 30 percent of our oceans by 2030.

The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would've protected a whopping 15 percent of our domestic oceans, which Jones said "makes absolutely no sense".

By taking it off the table, Gardner said it's unclear how we'll hit that international target.

He also said the Government is in a difficult position, balancing environmental protection and extractive industries.

"The question the Government is grappling with here is biodiversity protection on the one hand, versus fishing and mining activities, economic revenue, jobs, future green industries as well."

Iwi leaders have suggested an iwi-led approach to marine management, but Jones said that's not currently on the table.

Which leaves the future of one of the world's last truly pristine ecosystems uncertain.