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Study suggests how to manage the 'race for marine space'
Saturday 28 April 2012, 4:25AM
By Victoria University

The way New Zealand currently manages its oceans is not going to work in the face of competing conservation, economic and environmental demands, says visiting American marine policy expert Dr Mike McGinnis.

Recent news that there are only an estimated 55 adult Maui's dolphins off the northwest coast of New Zealand is a stark reminder of the perilous outcomes for individual species if efforts fail.

On the back of research commissioned by Victoria University, Dr McGinnis is calling for the country to adopt ecosystem based policy instruments and planning tools to sustain all marine resource use across generations.

"New Zealand is unique in that your small population is responsible for one of the most ecologically important marine areas in the world, particularly for seabirds and marine mammals," says Dr McGinnis, who is in Wellington to release the summary report on the study into New Zealand's ocean governance.

"As the country moves to develop offshore oil, minerals and marine farming activities, conflict between sectors will inevitably occur. In the 'race for marine space' there will be those who wish to protect marine life and those with an interest in economic development. There is currently no existing ocean governance framework in place to reconcile this conflict."

An ecosystem-based approach to marine management explicitly recognises marine activities are interconnected. A fish is considered more than a food source; it is also a prey and predator species and its use impacts on other elements of the overall marine ecosystem.

Dr McGinnis says it is not just a question of balancing the economic use of a marine area with the importance of a species or habitat. "Decisions need to be made that integrate the economic, environmental and social values of the sea in a way that sustains marine resources across generations."

During the two-year study, Dr McGinnis interviewed national and regional civil servants, marine industry representatives and non-governmental organisations across the country.

He evaluated planning tools being implemented in the United States, Australia, the UK and Canada and drew on two decades of experience as an academic and practitioner in the area of coastal and marine policy in the US and Europe to present an 'outsider's' perspective on marine management in New Zealand.

His recommendations include:

  • Creating an Ocean Science Trust to strengthen the use of science in marine planning and decision-making.
  • Better integrating biodiversity and marine data into the policy making process.
  • Developing an Ocean Health Index to quantitatively assess ocean health over time and to help protect and maintain marine ecosystem services and goods. 
  • Amending the Marine Protect Areas Policy to clearly define the legislative measures available to protect biodiversity.
  • Improving the modelling and planning tools that assess the effects of marine activities in the EEZ so that non-consumptive values are also carefully considered in planning and decision-making.
  • Developing a public trust doctrine and a compatible use criterion for the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
  • Establishing a 'Living Permit' process that enables new information to be incorporated into the decision-making and consent process for proposed marine activities.

The summary report will be presented at a lecture at Victoria University of Wellington on Monday 30 April 2012. Members of the public are welcome to attend the lecture. Please RSVP by phoning (04)463 5307 or email:

Dr McGinnis an Associate Professor in International Marine Policy and Science at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the National Center for the Blue Economy in California, USA. This research was commissioned by the Emerging Issues Programme at the Institute of Policy Studies within Victoria's School of Government. INDEX