The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has approved an application to mine millions of tonnes of iron sand off South Taranaki. It was a split decision and looks like it will be appealed, but nevertheless this shows that the seabed mining could proceed under current rules. The Opportunities Party (TOP) thinks this is wrong – we need to go through a spatial planning process to work out what bits of the ocean we want to protect before we open any area up to mining.
Learn From Our Mistakes on Land
With 30% of our land mass protected, at first blush it looks like we have done a decent job of protecting our environment. But when you look closer it isn’t quite that straightforward. The area we have mostly protected is the bits that we haven’t used; mainly the mountains. Some environments have been almost completely removed, such as wetlands and lowland forests. These habitats have, in most instances, been replaced with dairy farms.
We need to learn from this experience and protect a representative sample of all our habitats before it is too late. Some of our inshore habitats such as estuaries and harbours have already been hugely impacted by soil and development. These areas are important for example as a breeding ground for snapper. The impact of this, and inshore fishing, is also having an impact on our native species such as Maui and Hectors dolphins, and yellow-eye penguins (hoiho).
Marine Spatial Planning
What are the crucial bits of our ocean for our native species? What are the environments that exist nowhere else? These are the questions we need to start with in a marine spatial planning process. Such a process would gather all our experts together to work out the crucial bits of our marine habitat, and make sure the rights are protected in the right way to protect our native species.
Then we would know what bits of our ocean should be kept pristine and which parts can be used for commercial purposes such as fishing, electricity generation, aquaculture, mining, and oil & gas extraction.
We have already been through a marine spatial planning process once in New Zealand with the Hauraki Gulf process that led to the Sea Change Tai Timu Tai Pari plan. The precedent exists, the hard work has been done at least for that part of our ocean, the Government just needs to implement it.
Commercial Ocean Users Should Pay
Regardless of what they are doing, all commercial ocean users should pay royalties for the right to use our ocean. That money should be used to better understand our ecosystem and invest in this sort of marine spatial planning process.
As we have said before, we acknowledge the need for growth, but this can no longer be at the expense of our environment. TOP isn’t opposed to mining or extractive industries. We just need to put our environment first.