NZ Marine Reserve Safeguards Southern Islands

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, January 28, 2003 (ENS) - The Auckland Islands Marine Reserve is closer to becoming a reality now that the application of a New Zealand government agency for this protected status has been approved. The Aucklands are subantarctic islands south of New Zealand that offer a haven for marine mammals and sea birds.

islands

The Auckland Islands are high cliffs rising from the Southern Ocean some 800 miles south of New Zealand's Southern Island. (Satellite photo courtesy NASA)
The Department of Conservation application seeks to establish a 484,000 hectare (1,869 square mile) marine reserve encompassing the territorial sea and all internal waters surrounding the Auckland Islands out to the 12 mile territorial boundary. It will become New Zealand's second largest marine reserve, safeguarding the main breeding ground for the threatened Hooker's sea lion, southern right whale, and yellow-eyed penguin.

Birdwatchers who visit these remote islands will see black, grey-faced and Cook's petrels, Buller's shearwaters, blue penguins, Australasian gannets, and Arctic skua. Whalewatchers will find Bryde's whales, common and bottlenose dolphins and orcas.

The country's primary conservation organization, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, known Forest and Bird, welcomed the government's approval of the marine reserve application. The protected area includes all the waters now in the Auckland Islands' Marine Mammal Sanctuary, and overlaps with other protected designations, the group observed.

"The approval of this marine reserve also protects the part of the New Zealand Subantarctic World Heritage Area that surrounds the Auckland Islands," said Barry Weeber, Forest and Bird's senior conservation officer.

The application by Director-General of Conservation Hugh Logan says a Auckland Islands Marine Reserve aims to begin the establishment of a marine reserve network that would represent the full range of habitats and ecosystems found in New Zealand's marine environment when fully developed.

sea lion

Sea lion pup on the Auckland Islands tagged by the NZ Department of Conservation (Two photos courtesy Murihiku Expeditions)
"In a region where all living things are dependent on the sea, this would allow for a holistic approach to conservation management integrating both the terrestrial and marine environments. The establishment of this marine reserve is in the national interest and is of international scientific significance," the department's application says.

Forest and Bird will be seeking clarification of the government's intentions with regard to its proposal for the Kaikoura marine reserve off the northeast coast of New Zealand's South Island. The group first applied for this status over 10 years ago, but its application has been ignored by every minister of conservation since then.

The group would like to see all the existing applications for marine reserves approved quickly. A Marine Reserves Bill now before parliament would establish a set timetable to process marine reserve applications.

albatross

Royal albatross flies across the Auckland Islands.
Forest and Bird is urging the government to extend reserve status to other marine areas within the UNESCO World Heritage Area, listed in 1998. "The World Heritage Area covers Auckland, Snares, Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Islands and their surrounding seas out to 12 nautical miles and recognizes that these marine areas have international significance," says Weeber. "Protecting these areas as marine reserves would give these areas the legal recognition they deserve."

The conservation organization says Waiheke Island, Stewart Island, Wellington South Coast, north Nelson, and Paraninihi are also worthy of legal protection.

The Auckland Islands have the richest flora of all the subantarctic islands - 233 taxa have been recorded, of which 196 are native.

The islands also have a long history of introduced species. Rabbits, goats, cattle, cats, rats, mice and pigs placed on the islands in the early 1800s have been destructive to the natural ecosystem. Sea lion pups fall into the remains of rabbit warrens, and albatross breeding grounds are destroyed by pigs. As an albatross takes only one mate in a lifetime, the entire species suffers.

Rabbits and cattle were eradicated by the Department of Conservation in 1990, and pigs will eradicated as soon as a viable method becomes available.