New Zealand – On Tuesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key announced the creation of an Ocean Sanctuary, at 620,000 km2 of ocean in the Kermadec region that will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully protected areas so far.

The Kermadec region is a subtropical arc of islands at the north of New Zealand that contains the 10-km deep Kermadec trench, one of the deepest ocean trenches in the world, rich in sea life including whales, dolphins, endangered turtles and sea birds.

New Zealand is set to create one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, spanning an area of 620,000 sq km. Credit: World Wild Life

The sanctuary will cover 15% of New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone, an area twice the size of our landmass, 50 times the size of our largest national park in Fiordland and approximately the size of France.

“The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully-protected areas, preserving important habitats for seabirds, whales and dolphins, endangered marine turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life,” Mr Key said to Reuters.

The announcement was made at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where sustainable development is a key theme. The Prime Minister also clarified the establishing of the sanctuary will create a no-take, fully-protected zone preventing all fishing and mining in the area, adding to the protections already in place, which resulted in a surprise for New Zealand’s seafood export industry, worth currently NZ$1.4 billion ($882 million) a year according to Reuters.

Supporters and Opponents

The move was welcomed by environmentalists but not so much by fishing and mining companies operating in the region. One of the groups strongly pressuring for the creation of the reserve, Pew Environment Group said it effectively expands New Zealand’s protection of the marine environment from 0.5% to 15.5% spaces.

“It’s an extraordinary achievement for all New Zealanders and for the people of the Pacific Islands,” Pew’s campaign director Bronwen Golder told the BBC.

On the other side, George Clement, chairman of Seafood New Zealand, told Reuters news agency they had “no forewarning from government” and that the industry “needs time to consider the full implications”.

However, the strongest opposition may come from international mining such as Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian mining firm currently expecting permit to begin operations in the Kermadec region. Other U.S. and China companies also maintain interests in the region meaning they might be willing to pressure for a dropout of mining bans.

Labour’s Fisheries

Despite the international support to the sanctuary, some people feel there is a lack of consultation with important iwi stakeholders about the establishment of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary that could lead to legal challenges.

Labour’s Fisheries spokesperson Rino Tirikatene said he welcomes the establishment of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary but, “We do have concerns the Government’s carefree approach is denying iwi involvement and could lead to legal challenges.”

“The Ohu Kaimoana hold significant quota for Maori in an area affected by the sanctuary and yet they weren’t consulted. This is a breach of Treaty of Waitangi obligations. Key stakeholders, including iwi, should have been part of the conversation about the Sanctuary before the announcement was made,” Business Scoop reported.

Source: New Zealand Government