New Zealand’s marine environment looking grim, new report confirms

by | Oct 13, 2022 | News

A sobering picture of the current state and future prospects of Aotearoa New Zealand’s marine environment is detailed in a new report just released by the Ministry for the Environment.
The Our Marine Environment 2022 was jointly produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, showing aspects of the marine environment are at risk due to climate change, pollution, human activity and other pressures.
The report paints a grim picture of ocean health, says the activist group Greenpeace.
“Sadly this latest environmental report confirms what we already know: that the marine environment is facing multiple pressures from climate change, pollution and commercial fishing. Sea levels are rising, and many of Aotearoa’s native marine species are in decline,” says Greenpeace Aotearoa oceans campaigner Ellie Hooper.
“Clearly, current measures are not doing enough to protect the ocean, and further action is required to turn things around. A healthy, thriving ocean is possible but the Government must be bold and ambitious enough to take real measures to protect the marine environment for the future.”

What the report’s data shows

Impacts of climate-related changes include:

  • sea level rise affects coastal communities, infrastructure, coastal habitats and biodiversity.
  • for many Māori, climate change will affect homes and sites of significance including marae, urupā, and wāhi tapu.
  • thousands of kilometres of roads and water pipes and $26 billion worth of buildings are vulnerable to sea level rise of 0.6m.
  • ocean acidification affects many marine species. For example shellfish struggle to grow and reproduce, and corals – which support a wide variety of sea life – can die.

Impacts of poor water quality and pollution include:

  • high nutrient levels can increase toxic algal blooms. Both can harm kai moana species and affect mahinga kai practices, such as harvesting and protecting seafood.
  • sediment can clog the gills of cockles, pipi, and scallops, which feed by filtering food from the water.
  • bans or restrictions on shellfish gathering, aquaculture and recreation are needed in areas with high bacteria and toxin levels, due to the risk of illnesses such as gastroenteritis, respiratory problems, and ear and skin infections.
  • plastic pollution can affect or kill marine species and seabirds – either directly or via contaminants that move up the food chain.

Source: Our Marine Environment 2022 

Greenpeace says the report shows that sea levels are rising faster than ever before, with the rate of sea level rise in Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin more than doubling in the 60 years to 2020 compared to the rate for the previous 60 years. It also shows that most ocean habitats in Aotearoa are in decline – including critical seamounts – and that many treasured marine species are threatened with extinction. The report names bottom trawling as having long-lasting, destructive impacts on the seabed and surrounding marine environment.
Hooper says the Government needs to take action now, and must not wait three years for another report to show us more of the same.”We’ve got enough information right now to justify urgent action to drastically reduce emissions and protect the ocean from destructive fishing, so what’s the hold up? We face a twin climate and extinction crisis and this report highlights the deadly overlap, and provides stark evidence for why our Government should be doing more to reduce climate pollution and protect the ocean.”
Greenpeace is campaigning for both a drastic reduction in agricultural emissions to prevent further climate change impacts, and to get destructive bottom trawling banned from seamounts to protect critical biodiversity.
“Climate change and destructive bottom trawling are wreaking havoc on the rich marine environment surrounding Aotearoa. The good news is the solutions are clear. Now we just need the Government to act. A healthy ocean is vital to all life on this Earth, and is one of our biggest allies in the fight against the climate crisis. The need for greater ocean protection is clear, as is the need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further decline.”

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