November 8 2013

New Zealand’s underwater ‘national parks’, known as Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs), have been recognised internationally as Marine Protected Areas. The seafood industry is concerned that a proposal to mine the central Chatham Rise will put this protection at risk.

“I call on Ministers to stop this strip-mining project before it’s too late. Our reputation for sustainable seafood from our unspoilt oceans is too valuable to loose. Why would we risk that?” says George Clement, CEO of Deepwater Group, a non-profit organisation supporting sustainable deep water fishing.

In October, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) identified all Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the world, demonstrating that New Zealand is playing a leading role in global ocean protection.

Marine Protected Areas now cover around 2.8% of the global ocean - an area larger than Europe. Many of the world’s governments have agreed to protect at least 10% of their oceans by 2020. New Zealand has already set aside 30% of its zone within Marine Protected Areas, exceeding that target three times over.

“That’s mostly because about a third of the seabed in our Exclusive Economic Zone is protected by BPAs. This government and the last Labour government deserve credit for supporting this initiative, but the protection now needs to be extended to prevent large scale mining that would damage the conservation benefits.”

The BPAs close over 1.1 million square kilometers of the seabed to bottom trawling and dredging, but not to seabed mining.

“The information provided to us indicates that the proposed mining in the Chatham Rise BPA area could destroy the ecology on which our sustainable seaford is dependent,” says George Clement.

Chatham Rock Phosphate is preparing an application to strip-mine large areas of the seabed on the Chatham Rise to extract phosphate. Seabed mining at these depths has never been done before and could be catastrophic for the marine environment.
What are Benthic Protection Areas?

In 2007 the seafood industry worked with the government to create special large Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs) or underwater ‘national parks’ to protect large areas of untouched seabed ecosystems. There are seventeen BPAs which represent each of the different ecosystems across New Zealand’s oceans. These areas were carefully selected using the best scientific information to encompass all of the known benthic ecosystems and to close off areas that, for the most part, are pristine (i.e. untouched by human actitivites).

Thirty per cent of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ, the fourth largest EEZ in the world), or 1.1 million square kilometres of our seabed, is protected by law from any dredging or bottom trawling. At the time of introduction they represented 24% of the total marine area under protection in the world. There are only some 19 countries whose entire EEZ is bigger than the area protected by New Zealand’s BPAs. The BPAs protect an area equivalent to 4 times the land area of New Zealand.

The present law does not protect these ecosystems from mining.

The new IUCN map shows how progress in the last few years has been boosted by the addition of large offshore marine protected areas like BPAs, complementing the many smaller protected sites that exist in inshore waters of many countries.