Submitted 18 May 2021: Read the NZCA's submission on the proposed Te Pēwhairangi (Bay of Islands) Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

The Legislative Basis for the New Zealand Conservation Authority submission

  1. The New Zealand Conservation Authority (the Authority) was established under the Conservation Act 1987, with members appointed by the Minister of Conservation. It is an independent statutory body with a range of functions, but primarily acts as an independent conservation advisor to the Minister, and the Director-General of Conservation. The Authority also has a growing advocacy role regarding matters of national significance relating to conservation.
  2. Marine biodiversity is a matter of national importance; the NZCA has consistently identified marine protection in its strategic priorities, and has developed marine principles that address governance, conservation and protection, and sustainable use of the marine environment.
  3. The Authority has a range of powers and functions under the Conservation Act 1987 and other conservation-related legislation. Section 6C(2)(c) of the Conservation Act allows the Authority to “advocate the interests of the Authority at any public forum or in any statutory planning process”.
  4. Following the logic of the above powers and functions, the NZCA makes this submission on the public consultation document: A proposal to establish a marine mammal sanctuary in Te Pēwhairangi (Bay of Islands).

Our marine environment is our Aotearoa

  1. The Authority’s marine principles stress the essentialness of the sustainable management of the marine environment to the health of marine biodiversity. The Authority have been persistent in upholding these principles through its advocacy and advisory role.
  2. The consultation document explores the issue that “the bottlenose dolphin population is declining in Te Pēwhairangi (Bay of Islands), where uniquely high levels of interactions with people and vessels are affecting all marine mammals”. The Authority note that this is an issue, yes, but it is also a symptom of inadequate management of human activity in the area. It is the result of a longstanding improper prioritisation of recreational and commercial use before conservation.
  3. In 2020, there were fewer than 30 bottlenose dolphins, less than 10% of their population numbers recorded 20 years earlier. The establishment of a Marine Mammal Sanctuary is long overdue, and the stark reality that a breeding season should pass where no new calves were born before this action is being taken, is disappointing.

The NZCA’s submission

  1. The NZCA supports the establishment of the proposed marine mammal sanctuary in Te Pēwhairangi, and the objectives of the proposal to limit activities that are known to negatively affect the bottlenose dolphins in Te Pēwhairangi, namely, the speed of vessels, the proximity of vessels to marine mammals, and people attempting to interact in the water with marine mammals at close quarters.
  2. The NZCA supports the involvement of hapū kaitiaki rangers in the management of the sanctuary; however, the consultation document provides inadequate information about how the critical steps of day-to-day management, monitoring, and compliance will work, and how future co-management arrangements will be facilitated.
  3. The NZCA notes that:
    1. There is a need for monitoring to take place to establish the effectiveness of the approaches being taken. Given the state of the population and the need for evidence informed decision making, it is critical that the best information possible is available to evaluate the effectiveness of the protection measures. The NZCA urges that this monitoring is not delayed, but progressed from the inception of the sanctuary.
    2. The consultation document has little reference to the communication strategies for public understanding. It will be critical that effective education and appropriate information is supplied to all communities that are likely to be affected by the establishment of the Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
    3. The Department will need to consider how compliance will be evaluated and enforced. Additional steps should be considered should the sanctuary, as it is proposed, prove ineffective.
    4. There is a need for a review of the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992. The consultation document makes it clear that these regulations do not adequately address the protection of marine mammals, in this case particularly with respect to people and vessel interactions.
  4. While the current sanctuary proposal is focused on Te Pēwhairangi, marine mammal and human interactions are of concern more widely in the New Zealand region, and a wider analysis and review are needed.
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