We watch with interest as five new marine reserves are set to be established on the west coast of the South Islands, as announced by Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson and Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley at the end of last week. What effect will this have on other potential sites? Will this open the doors wider for more protected sites or is it the grand finale of marine protection for this government?
The announcement taken from the Ministry of Fisheries website:
The new reserves are Kahurangi (8466ha), Punakaiki (3558ha), Okarito (4641ha), Gorge (847ha) and a small educational site at Ship Creek near Haast (16ha), totalling 17,528ha combined. Kahurangi and Okarito will become the two largest marine reserves on New Zealand's mainland coast. An additional 9557ha of ocean adjoining the Punakaiki and Gorge marine reserves will be granted protection from bottom trawling, dredging and Danish seining under the Fisheries Act.
Ms Wilkinson says the creation of five new marine reserves has been driven by the local community through the West Coast Marine Protection Forum and is a huge achievement.
"Up till this point the West Coast has not had any marine protection off the coast, which contrasts quite markedly with the status afforded much of the surrounding land. Today's announcement will correct that and this is a testament to the years of work the Forum has undertaken to present viable options for the Government to consider.
"We have chosen a mix of options that we believe will protect a full range of marine habitats and ecosystems. The West Coast is already renowned internationally for its rugged beauty and the establishment of these marine reserves will add to the prestige of the area."
Mr Heatley says the results achieved highlighted the benefits of conservation and fishing interests working together to assess the merits of marine protection. "The West Coast has a strong fishing industry, with crayfish and finfish of particular importance to the local economy. "It's great to see both commercial and recreational fishers working to achieve pragmatic options for marine protection. We have been careful to strike a balance that wouldn't unfairly disadvantage their interests and I'm confident we've got it right."
The Ministers wished to thank the West Coast Marine Protection Forum, chaired by Bruce Hamilton, which conducted a tremendous amount of work consulting on and assessing the marine protection options. The Ministry of Fisheries and DOC will now start the statutory processes required to establish the marine reserves and put the Fisheries Act regulations in place.
More details regarding boundaries can be found on the DOC website: Proposed West Coast Marine Protected Areas Marine Protection Forum.