By the Blouin News Science & Health staff

New Zealand to create enormous marine reserve

by in Environment.

Getty Images

A South Pacific sea turtle. Getty Images

On Tuesday New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key announced the country will be creating a vast marine reserve the size of France surrounding the Kermadec islands. With remarkable geological features and biodiversity, “the Kermadec Ocean sanctuary will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully-protected areas,” Key said.

The Kermadec Ocean sanctuary northeast of New Zealand. Source: PEW Environmental group

The Kermadec Ocean sanctuary northeast of New Zealand. Source: PEW Environmental group

In 1990, the country established a 7,500km² marine reserve in the sea surrounding the five Kermadec Islands, located northeast of New Zealand. Soon, however, the new reserve will encompass 620,000km², “twice the size of our land mass and 50 times the size of our largest national park. It is truly a special place, and we want to keep it that way,” Key said. All forms of fishing and mining will be banned, and the sanctuary will be monitored by the navy and satellites.

According to Pew Environment Group, the sanctuary means that New Zealand will be protecting 15.5% of its marine territory, up from 0.5% before. But while most of New Zealand cheered the news, the country’s $882 million fishing industry was taken aback. A total of about 20 tons of fish are currently caught in the area each year. “With no forewarning from government, the industry needs time to consider the full implications,” said George Clement, chairman of industry body Seafood New Zealand. “We have only really just developed a domestic tuna industry of any size and they are taking away this valuable area,” stated Charles Hufflett, managing director of the New Zealand firm Solander Seafood and Fishing. (Tuna was the country’s fourth largest seafood export in 2013.)

Likewise, the untapped but potentially large quantities of silver and other minerals in the Kermadec seabed are now off-limits — bad news for Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals, which has been awaiting a permit to prospect in the area. But the government, which aims to pass legislation creating the reserve next year, is right to take a more responsible long-term environmental perspective. Hopefully, this bold move will encourage the establishment of additional marine reserves in the South Pacific.