It is deeply concerning that the state of our marine environment has not improved in the last three years. Resilient coasts and oceans are essential to New Zealanders’ health and wealth, so urgent action is needed to address the decline.
There is a growing need for ecosystem-based management (EBM) to holistically manage risk and sustain Aotearoa’s coasts and oceans. This is even more important given the ongoing impacts of climate change.
Our research directly addresses issues identified in the report but there are five areas of particular note.
Cumulative effects (CE)
The report rightly identifies CE as one of the most urgent and complex issues facing Aotearoa’s coasts and oceans. Improving monitoring and new research to address information gaps that hinder our understanding is important – but only part of the story. We need urgent action to change the way CE are managed.
Aotearoa’s coastal and marine management is covered by 25 statutes that govern 14 agencies and operate across 7 geographic jurisdictions. Each deals with CE differently – but stressors such as pollutants and climate change cross these jurisdictional and geographic boundaries.
A consistent, holistic, ki uta ki tai (mountains to deep sea) strategy is the only feasible way to tackle CE; which is why we are collaborating with central government agencies, local and regional councils, iwi, and industry. This has already produced the Aotearoa Cumulative Effects (ACE) framework which can guide collaborative CE management across a range of scales. We are also co-developing new tools to incorporate ecological responses to CE into management action.
Incorporating mātauranga Māori into monitoring and management in accordance with tikanga Māori
Māori ways of knowing and doing have to be part of the solution when addressing the issues Aotearoa’s marine ecosystems. Historically, mātauranga and tikanga Māori haven’t been fully considered or their potential recognised. Bringing together the two worldviews of Te Ao Māori and western science will benefit all New Zealanders, enabling the best of traditional and contemporary ways of knowing to inform decision-making and practice.
This is why we have research focused on improving the way Māori knowledge, practice and interests can inform, guide and partner in marine management. This includes codeveloping digital tools that make both mātauranga Māori and contemporary science more accessible and useful to empower kaitiaki, and establishing kaitiakitanga-based frameworks to inform improved management at different scales.
Connections between land and sea
Coastal and marine ecosystems deliver multiple benefits and services, but they are increasingly under stress from nutrients and sediments running off the land. It is critical that we are able to holistically manage the cumulative effects of stressors, rather than on an individual basis.
Our Tipping Points project was Aotearoa’s first national marine experiment, which investigated how estuaries and harbours from Northland to Southland respond to change caused by excess sediment and nutrients. This knowledge is important for informing coastal management decisions.
Impact on marine values
I’m pleased to see that the report highlighted the impact of ecosytem decline on New Zealanders’ marine values. Economic benefits (eg employment opportunities) are an important consideration in marine environmental planning, policy and decision-making, but should not be the only ones – too often intangible values are not considered, or even recognised, until they are already irreparably damaged or lost.
We need to acknowledge, and take into account, the importance of ecological, social and spiritual values as part of Aotearoa’s marine management. To enable this, we are investigating ways to assess ecosystem services and non-monetary benefits of marine ecosystems.
A ‘blue’ marine economy
The report notes that our oceans support us ecologically and spiritually, as well as financially. Many New Zealanders earn their living from the seas and ensuring that future generations have this opportunity, without losing ecological and spiritual values, is part of our mission.
We are investigating how enterprising New Zealanders are using the seas in new and exciting ways, and how our industries are responding, to help create a new ‘blue’ economy for Aotearoa. We define a blue economy as: marine activities that generate economic value and contribute positively to social, cultural and ecological well-being.
What is EBM?
Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is a holistic and inclusive way to manage marine environments and the competing uses for, demands on, and ways New zealanders valie them. We have proposed 7 prinicples for EBM, co-developed with Māori and stakeholders.
What are ecosystem services?
Ecosystem servies are the benefits that humans gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems, eg bivalves in estuaries filtering pollutants out of the water.
About the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge
The vision of Sustainable Seas is for Aotearoa to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It brings together scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in mātauranga Māori and policy. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA. https://sustainableseaschallenge.co.nz
About the National Science Challenges
Sustainable Seas is one of 11 National Science Challenges. These align and focus New Zealand’s research on large and complex issues, bringing together scientists and experts from different organisations and across disciplines to achieve a common goal.