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Marine Biodiversity in New Zealand
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Marine Biodiversity
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at a Regional Level
Marine Biosecurity


'Biodiversity' is the name for the variety of all biological life. This includes plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystems they live in. 'Marine biodiversity' refers to this variety of life in coastal and ocean environments.


New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone:

  • is some 4,053,049 square kilometres of ocean in extent
  • is more than 1% of the earth's surface
  • is the fourth largest in the world is still being definitively mapped.

Many New Zealanders value our coastal waters and oceans in a non-material, spiritual way. Maori have a special affinity with the oceans, and this is recognised in the Treaty of Waitangi. Many New Zealand industries depend on biological resources and healthy ecosystems, such as New Zealand's $1.2 billion a year commercial fishing industry.

Some biological resources

  • are vital but 'priceless', such as oceans' role in regulating local and global climates
  • have potentially useful and commercially valuable compounds yet to be discovered.

New Zealand's

  • unique biodiversity is internationally important:
  • many of our native species are found nowhere else on earth
  • 'clean and green' environment has economic value for our tourism industry and many primary producers
  • biodiversity has intrinsic value - the value of the variety of life itself.

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Threats to Marine Biodiversity

There is broad scientific agreement that marine biodiversity is seriously threatened by human activities.

According to the US Committee on Biological Diversity in Marine Systems*, the most serious threats to marine biodiversity are:

  • fishing operations
  • chemical pollution and eutrophication
  • alteration of physical habitat invasions of exotic species
  • global climate change.

The US Committee on Biological Diversity in Marine Systems* has assessed that widespread social, economic and biological impacts of these threats include:

  • dramatic reductions in most of the preferred edible fish and shellfish
  • loss of species with potential for biomedical products
  • changes in the basic functioning of ecosystems.

* "Understanding Marine Biodiversity: A Research Agenda for the Nation" Committee on Biological Diversity in Marine Systems. National Academy Press. Washington DC 1995.

In New Zealand
Many human activities in and around New Zealand impact on our marine biodiversity, including:

  • fishing - recreational and commercial land use - through sediments and pollution
  • exotic pests - introduced by shipping in ballast water and fouled hulls
  •  human induced climate change - affects ocean temperature and levels.

International obligations
The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy fulfills, in part, commitments New Zealand made under the international Convention on Biological Diversity. Ratified by New Zealand in 1993, this requires signatory nations to prepare national strategies to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.

Fisheries Act 1996
New Zealand's Fisheries Act 1996 sets up a framework for the sustainable use of fisheries resources. Part II, Section 9 - Environmental Principles, requires that all actions under this Act include consideration of the following environmental principles:

  1. Associated or dependent species should be maintained above a level that ensures their long-term viability.
  2. Biological diversity of the aquatic environment should be maintained.
  3.  Habitat of particular significance for fisheries management should be protected.

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