New Zealand has the sixth largest EEZ in the world (95% of New Zealand is underwater). The EEZ is a hugely valuable marine area and is critically important to New Zealand’s quality of life and economic welfare. However, it is under stress from fishing, land-based sources of marine pollution, and climate change. The New Zealand marine region a global hot spot of marine diversity that will come under increasing pressures from mariculture, oil and gas development, and marine mining in the future. New Zealand’s marine environment contains an estimated 65,000 species, 44% of which are found only there.
In July 2000, the national government developed an “Oceans Policy” to ensure integrated and consistent management of New Zealand’s ocean environment. The development of the policy was supposed to be a cross-government exercise, covering all aspects of ocean management, including effects from land, and would extend out to the edge of the EEZ and the Continental Shelf beyond. The completion of the proposed Oceans Policy options package was delayed in June 2003 to take account of government decisions on public access and customary rights to the foreshore and seabed. Since 2006, the Government has taken a narrower approach, focusing on fixing the “most pressing marine problems in the short term while taking a more coordinated and integrated approach to marine management over time”. The first priority for action was improving the regulatory regime for environmental impacts in the EEZ. The “more coordinated and integrated approach” was deferred and has been sidelined since 2006.
More recently the New Zealand government has introduced an Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill. The bill puts in place a permitting system for activities in the EEZ and continental shelf that will require an assessment of environmental effects and will enable permission to be declined if the risks and potential adverse environmental effects are too large. However, the bill does nothing to coordinate and integrate planning and decisions across sectors. There are no requirements for MSP. Despite strong advocacy by environmental NGOs, MSP in the waters of the New Zealand EEZ appears to be many years away.