Our Marine Environment 2019 Report
The new marine environment report has highlighted the key issues affecting New Zealand’s oceans and estuaries. “Our Marine Environment 2019” stresses the government’s role in fighting pollution, which the Ministry for the Environment plans to address with a newly proposed water reform programme. This programme will improve the current freshwater management, says Environment Minister David Parker, as well as protecting wetlands and estuaries. The report also found that New Zealand oceans are likely to absorb more carbon dioxide than our forests, which Climate Change Minister James Shaw says is just more evidence that we need to take urgent action on emissions. You can find more of his regular chats with 95bFM News here.
Julia Rallo spoke with David Parker about the report last Friday, below Felix Walton has transcribed the interview.
How do you think the marine environment report will impact current policies and practises that are in place.
The stand-out to me is the effect of land-use practises on the quality of our in-shore marine areas. I think there’s an increasing understanding that pollution of estuaries and high sediment loads from land are adversely impacting our marine environments.
Do you think that incorporating other science disciplines and taking a more holistic, place-based approach will be beneficial?
All of these policies need to be science based, however I’m not someone who thinks we should delay taking action in the name of receiving ever-better and more certain science, because we’ve already got enough science to know what needs to be done.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the proposed water reform programme, what are its goals and how do you think they’ll be achieved?
An important part of the response is our essential fresh water programme. We’ve currently gone out for consultations so major changes to water policy and to the [unintelligible] activities that are causing the problems with both nitrate levels and sediment levels. Essentially what those policies seek to do is stop our waterways degrading within five years - or, sorry, stop them immediately from getting worse so that you see a noticeable improvement within five years, and then clean things up to a better standard over a generation. How we achieve that is through a combination of changes to the national policy statement under the RMA (Resource Management Act) which introduces a wider suite of measures of ecosystem health.
Kaipara Harbour was mentioned as one area that will benefit from the program. How will these policies improve the marine environment there and in other places?
The Kaipara Harbour is quite a sad case, really. It’s really important, it’s one of the largest estuaries, if not the largest in New Zealand, and it’s currently being degraded by huge sediment in-flows. Not all of this is recent, it goes back to when New Zealand’s forests were cleared for pastoral agriculture. The consequences have been mud banks that are sometimes metres deep that didn’t used to be there. Also, the spread of mangroves that are an environmental response to those increased nutrients and saltation levels. It’s an estuary for the majority of snapper caught on the west coast of New Zealand. To get that under control we have to reduce the flow of sediment into the estuary.
Do you think that communities play an important role in implementing these policies as well?
I absolutely agree that communities play an essential role. In fact we need every part of the system to be working, from individual farmers doing their bit, communities helping district and regional councils, playing their part through the things that they fund and the rules in their plans, and of course central government direction to require appropriate bottom lines.
What role do you think the government should play in protecting the environment?
The government has powers under the Resource Management Act to provide clearer direction to councils where, despite the fact that councils have delegated authority to do what they need to do, sometimes they haven’t been doing it. Councils also sometimes struggle to have the scientific capability in respect of some of the technical aspects of the plan changes they need. So we think one of the things the government needs to do is assist regional governments to update their plans for better outcomes, and in the last budget we had money to help them do that and are legislating currently for a new process under the Resource Management Act which will have a combination of regional councillors, a judge, and scientific experts and iwi all represented to make sure we get better plans in place as soon as we can.
Do you think the government policies we have in place now have been effective?
No they haven’t. Even now, twice as many waterways in New Zealand are degrading as are improving. The effect of those land-based effects on water going into the in-shore marine are has been… we’ve had a loss of shell-fish beds, kelp beds that have been shrinking in size in some parts of the country. Those matters have always been within the authority of district and regional councils to fix. Given that these problems haven’t been fixed, there’s a duty on central government to step in with the stricter rules that we’re proposing.
What are your steps going forward?
Our policy proposals are currently being consulted upon. They’re available on the web, if people google “MFE” or “central fresh water” they’ll get through to the submission process. We’re expecting lots of submissions from around the country from farming groups, from environmental groups, from interested individuals. They’ll be considered by a panel of experts which is headed by the former head Environment Court Judge Sheppard, they’ll be making recommendations for the fine tuning of these instruments, after which the cabinet will take decisions as to the final form to be promulgated and put into law.
Thank you so much for talking to me today.
Photo credit: James Tapp (bFM reporter)