October 28, 2016

Global greenhouse gas emissions causing ocean acidification and warming is the major issue facing New Zealand’s marine environment.

That is according to the report, Our Marine Environment 2016, released yesterday by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand.

The report is one of a six-monthly series covering marine, fresh water, atmosphere and climate, land, and air, and expands on last year’s overall Environment Aotearoa report.

The marine edition focused on climate, birds and mammals, coastal waters and harbours and estuaries, and fisheries and the impact of fishing.

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said fishing was a highly valued economic, cultural and recreational activity but it also put pressure on marine wildlife and ecosystems.

“There are some areas where we are seeing our use of the sea going in the right direction,” she said.

“While bycatch remains a considerable threat to our marine life, there have been some significant inroads made in recent decades.”

She attributed this mostly to the uptake of mitigation measures such as bird-scaring and sea lion exclusion devices.

According to the report:

  • Seabird commercial bycatch numbers decreased from about 9000 birds in 2003 to 5000 in 2014.
  • In 1999 the estimated bycatch of fur seals was 1729. This decreased to 490 in 2014.
  • In 1996 the estimated bycatch of sea lions was 143. This decreased to 43 in 2014.
  • From 1997 to 2014 the number of trawl tows decreased 50 percent and dredge tows by 83 percent.



Loss of breeding habitats, introduced predators and disease were listed as non-fishing threats to marine birds. Ship strike, pollution, disease and habitat changes were among the threats to mammals.

The report estimated 90 percent of New Zealand’s 92 native seabird species and 14 shorebird species were either threatened or were at risk of extinction. A quarter of the world’s seabird species breed in New Zealand and almost 10 percent breed only here.

Around one quarter of marine mammal species are said to be threatened with extinction. 

The Stuff website promptly inaccurately reported “90 percent of New Zealand seabirds at risk of extinction”, which was repeated in print today.

What the report did say was that 35 percent (32 of 92) seabird species are threatened with extinction, based on the threat classification system.

While the media concentrated on fishing at the report’s launch in Wellington yesterday, the study highlighted degradation of coastal marine habitats and ecosystems.

A massive amount of sediment washed off the land into our estuaries and shores, about 192 million tonnes every year, equivalent to 308,000 fully loaded Caterpillar dump trucks. “This is our top soil, so we are losing one of our big assets out to the ocean,” Ms Robertson said. “Furthermore, too much sediment makes life hard for shellfish and other creatures. 

“Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus washed off our land into the sea cause problems. Run-off can reduce oxygen in seawater and contribute to algal blooms, which can be toxic. Our coastal areas perform some really important functions like recycling nutrients and human waste, trapping and stabilising sediments, producing oxygen that supports other marine life, and providing nursery grounds for fish.”

Ms Robertson defended the fishing industry at the media conference, saying there were a lot of good initiatives under way to protect the marine environment.

Television Auckland reporter Andrea Vance presented a number of questions at the media conference critical of commercial fishing, suggesting “it was a problem that the fishing industry was always a barrier”.

Ms Robertson said we were in a good place in New Zealand, the fishing industry wanted sustainable practices and it was “not as black and white as you suggest”.

But it turned out the national broadcaster could not find room in its evening bulletin for any coverage of the report.

Newshub’s Isobel Ewing, Radio NZ’s Kate Gudsell and the NZ Herald’s Jamie Morton provided extensive and accurate coverage.

Statistics NZ released a companion report, New Zealand’s marine economy: 2007-13, that highlighted the contribution of the sector.

There were 47,000 jobs filled in fisheries and aquaculture, according to Government Statistician Liz MacPherson.

Marine-related industries contributed $4 billion, almost 2 percent of gross domestic product in 2013.

“These results show the level of significance of the marine economy to New Zealand’s overall economy,” Ms MacPherson said.

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