Celebrating our oceans

Aotearoa New Zealand is surrounded by Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean. The ocean is central to our identities and to our ecosystems. The Big Blue both isolates us from other countries and connects us to our Pacific neighbours. We have the seventh largest maritime area in the world, ranging from subtropical to subantarctic, with more than 50 habitat types. And we’re responsible for the protection of this area and the thousands of species – all the fish, mammals, seaweeds, microorganisms, crustaceans, seabirds – that call it home.

On World Ocean Day, we want to celebrate our seas and take a quick look at how we’re working to protect our beautiful ocean environments and remarkable marine life.

Protecting our ocean dwellers

New Zealand ranks the highest in the world for our proportion of native marine species. Over half of our 17,000 known species are endemic (found only here). In fact, up to 85% of our wildlife could be in the ocean! We have more than 1,000 species of seaweeds, alone – and around 2,600 species of crustaceans. This biodiversity is important and we’re taking steps to look after it.

Our Māui and Hector’s dolphins are some of the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world – both species are at risk. We’ve put in place far-reaching protections for these animals, with stronger fisheries management and enhanced research tools. An array of sharks, rays, fishes, and invertebrates are also protected – with threat management plans in place for rāpoka (New Zealand sea lions) and hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins).

Restoring coastlines while creating jobs

We’re working to revitalise our coastal ecosystems – and creating employment opportunities at the same time. Jobs for Nature is supporting a project to protect Fiordland’s marine biodiversity from an invasive kelp, creating dozens of jobs and keeping the area’s 10 marine reserves pristine. We’ve helped fund the restoration of shellfish reefs and beds in the Hauraki Gulf and sought feedback on a proposed marine mammal sanctuary in the Bay of Islands.

Getting rid of single-use plastics

We banned single-use shopping bags and microbeads, in a concerted effort to ensure less plastic ends up in rivers, streams, stormwater systems, and the ocean. We’re also improving our recycling efforts, backing product stewardship schemes, and funding research into waste issues – all of which mean less ocean pollution.

Cleaning up our freshwater

By improving the quality of the water that flows into the sea, we improve the health of our coastal waters. We’re cleaning up our rivers and lakes with new rules for high-risk farm practices and increased health standards at swimming spots, as well as funding for restoration projects like wetland creation, riparian planting, and river bank stabilisation. We’re also helping to clean up waste from the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, to improve the health of Southland groundwater.

Helping our birds

Aotearoa has the highest number of endemic seabirds in the world, and many of these are threatened. We’re working to protect these precious birds from fishing-related captures, and we’ve collaborated with Australia and Chile to bring the toroa (Antipodean albatross) back from the brink of extinction – ensuring it is protected on its lengthy migratory flight. Our efforts to make Aotearoa predator free are also having a positive effect on breeding colonies. Healthy bird populations mean healthier seas, too, as guano run-off provides nutrients that help kelp and seaweed thrive.

Funding oceanographic science

Budget 2021 secures our place in Antarctica, with a significant investment to redevelop Scott Base. This investment will ensure our continued support for world-leading research on issues like climate change, the marine environment, and coastal ecosystems.

Taking climate change seriously

Reducing our carbon footprint is crucial for the health of our oceans. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise and making water warmer and more acidic. The ocean effectively acts as a huge sponge for emissions, with potentially devastating impacts on our sea life. We’ve passed the Zero Carbon Act, aiming to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We’ve set a goal of getting the public sector carbon neutral by 2025, and we’re funding efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels – from public transport to government buildings. Our decision to end new oil and gas exploration in New Zealand waters is also part of our effort to reduce our carbon footprint. We’re leading the world on climate finance initiatives and we’ve quadrupled the size of Green Investment Finance, to back climate-friendly technological advancements.

Our seas offer employment and economic benefits as well as recreation opportunities – but they’re also home to diverse, vibrant worlds that we’re only on the edge of understanding.

This World Ocean Day, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to protect our waters, but we know there’s plenty more to do to ensure generations to come can experience the wonder of our vast marine environment.

Stay in the loop with the latest announcements by signing up to our mailing list and following us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.