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Story: Marine conservation

Surrounded by a seemingly limitless and abundant ocean, New Zealanders for years plundered its riches with no thought for tomorrow. It was not until the 1970s that people acknowledged the fragility of the marine environment and its fish, birds and mammals. Since then, laws have brought greater protection, and the establishment of marine reserves and sanctuaries.

Story by Gerard Hutching and Carl Walrond
Main image: Tarakihi in the marine reserve off Kapiti Island

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

What is marine conservation?

Marine conservation is about protecting the ocean, and the fish, seabirds and other creatures that live in and around it. Many countries have laws against harming these species, overfishing, and polluting the sea.

Past attitudes to the sea

For a long time New Zealanders did not treat the sea carefully – it seemed limitless, there were so many fish, shellfish, seals, whales and birds to harvest. The sea and beaches were also used as a dumping ground for rubbish and raw sewage.

There were laws about when you could catch some species. But this was to ensure there would be plenty for killing, not to protect the animals. It took years for attitudes to change.

Protecting marine mammals and birds

Over many years New Zealand has made laws to stop people killing sea life:

  • Seals were nearly extinct by the 1870s, and were the first species to be protected.
  • Whales were last harpooned by New Zealand whalers in 1964. New Zealand strongly opposes whaling.
  • Dolphins were fully protected in 1978.
  • Almost all seabirds are protected today.

The fishing industry

In New Zealand there are strict limits (quotas) on how many fish and shellfish can be taken. And by law the fishing industry has to consider how fishing affects the environment. But seals, dolphins, turtles, albatrosses and other protected creatures are caught accidentally by fishing nets and hooks. Deep-sea trawlers drag nets along the ocean floor, damaging corals, sponges and other marine life. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace say trawling should be stopped.

Pollution

New Zealand does not have serious marine pollution, but for years the cities and towns pumped untreated sewage into the sea. The last centre to stop doing this was Hutt Valley in 2001. Floating rubbish such as plastic packaging kills many sea animals.

Marine reserves

A marine reserve is an area where no harvest is allowed. By 2014 New Zealand had 44 reserves, where people can swim, snorkel, dive and go boating.

How to cite this page:

Gerard Hutching and Carl Walrond, 'Marine conservation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/marine-conservation (accessed 21 November 2017)

Story by Gerard Hutching and Carl Walrond, published 12 Jun 2006, updated 1 Sep 2015