A fine collection of fish

by Rebecca Priestley / 16 June, 2012
Creating marine reserves can be a win-win situation for fishers, divers and environmentalists.

At the 1992 Earth Summit, New Zealand signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, committing us to protecting at least 10% of our coastal and marine territory by 2020. So how are we doing? Marine reserves protect only 0.3% of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – or 7% of our territorial sea – and almost all are around remote island groups like the Kermadec, Auckland and Antipodes islands. The reserves around New Zealand’s main islands comprise “an absolutely minuscule area”, says Chris Howe from WWF New Zealand.

WWF made headlines last month when its report on New Zealand’s environmental record since 1992 charged us with completely failing to meet the promises made at the Earth Summit. Howe says marine protection is an area in which we’ve performed abysmally. This month, a New Zealand delegation heads to the Rio+20 follow-up event, where protection of the marine environment will be on the agenda. Perhaps it’s time we took notice of research by people like Massey University’s Marti Anderson, a marine biologist and professor of statistics, that shows marine reserves really work. On her own dive trips – to reserves like Leigh, Hahei and Tawharanui – Anderson has observed some of the well-documented immediate effects of marine reserves, including “really large increases in the abundances and sizes of things that are otherwise targeted by fishers: species like snapper, blue cod and rock lobster”.

A recent study by Anderson’s PhD student Adam Smith revealed snapper populations inside the reserves have increased by as much as 17 times. At the same time, says Anderson, the natural system is re-established. “Snapper eat kina, and kina eat kelp. So where you have large snapper roaming around that are eating the kina, the kina populations are kept under control and the kelp forests flourish because they’re not being mown down by the sea urchins. And the kelp forest is something that supports a huge diversity of life: crustaceans, worms, molluscs, sponges, hydrozoans – more than 350 different species.”

But the benefits aren’t just for recreational divers, says Anderson. Marine reserves can be win-win – the Hahei Marine Reserve, which Anderson has been studying for 12 years, not only attracts divers and snorkellers, but “the lobster fishermen have very strategically placed all their pots right along the edge of the marine reserve and they get fantastic catches”. New research on the effectiveness of reserves along the Great Barrier Reef, just published in Current Biology, confirms that reserve networks benefit conservation and fisheries. Although marine reserves account for just over a quarter of the reef’s area, they produce about half the juveniles that end up in either local fisheries or the reserves.

Anderson and WWF agree it would be good to aim to protect 30% of New Zealand’s marine territory. “An inclusive stakeholder process should be run to decide where the protected areas should be,” says Howe. But he notes that scientists have already identified areas of the greatest marine biodiversity, and WWF considers some locations – such as the Maui’s dolphin habitat and the EEZ around the Kermadecs – so important they should be protected immediately. And would there be flow-on benefits to commercial fishers?

“My prediction is that if we put in a network of marine reserves, the overall productivity of the system and our ability to exploit the resources outside of those areas would go up,” says Anderson. But “the onus always seems to be on us to demonstrate that marine reserves are beneficial, but I’ve never seen anyone put forward the counterargument – we have never ever seen a fisheries collapse because someone has put a marine reserve in”.

Send your questions to science@listener.co.nz
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature
76836 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature

by Sally Blundell

A world in which humans live in harmony with nature is still possible, says veteran environmental campaigner Jane Goodall.

Read more
Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights (and lowlights) so far
76887 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights…

by David Larsen

The New Zealand International Film Festival is back for another year and Metro's David Larsen is in his happy place.

Read more
Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness
76845 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Books

Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness

by Danyl McLauchlan

Richard Dawkins’ profound admiration for himself comes through loud and clear – with footnotes.

Read more
As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of herd stupidity, not immunity?
75047 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Health

As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of …

by Sarah Lang

It’s astonishing just how many well-educated, presumably semi-intelligent New Zealanders subscribe to and try to spread this kind of nonsense.

Read more
The dreaded autocorrect disaster
76840 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The dreaded autocorrect disaster

by Joanne Black

Autocorrect may hide your texting and typing bloopers, but it won’t stop your blushes.

Read more
Retailers say competition laws block charge on plastic bags
76850 2017-07-24 16:14:42Z Environment

Retailers say competition laws block charge on pla…

by RNZ

1.5 billion plastic bags are used here each year and on average it takes just 12 minutes before a bag enters the waste stream.

Read more
Crossword 1037 answers and explanations
6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Taranaki
76777 2017-07-24 08:32:07Z Travel

6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Ta…

by Venture Taranaki

How to holiday like a local in the Naki.

Read more