Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012

This page provides an overview of the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012. It includes changes to the Act since it came into force and local government’s role under the Act.

This page has not yet been updated to reflect changes as a result of the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017.


Link to the Act

The Act came into force on 28 June 2013 when the first set of regulations under the Act was made.

What the Act does

The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (the Act) assists with the sustainable management of natural resources in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. It does this by allowing for the regulation of certain activities that were previously unregulated in the EEZ and continental shelf.

See Regulations under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012.

Responsibilities for functions under the Act

Ministry for the Environment

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the Act, development of regulations and for providing policy advice on the legislation. 

Environmental Protection Authority

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) makes decisions on marine consent applications and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the legislation, including monitoring and enforcement.

For more information on the EPA's role see the web page Exclusive economic zone and continental shelf [Environmental Protection Authority website].

Regional councils

The Act does not alter regional councils’ functions in the territorial sea under the RMA. Where an activity spans the boundary between the territorial sea (within 12 nautical miles of shore) and the EEZ, the legislation provides for joint decision-making between the regional council (under the RMA) and the EPA (under the EEZ Act).

Additionally, the Minister for the Environment is required to notify regional councils when developing regulations and the EPA is required to notify regional councils whose regions may be affected by a specific application for a discretionary marine consent.

Geographical area covered by the Act

Exclusive Economic Zone 

The EEZ is the area of ocean extending between 12 and 200 nautical miles from shore including the seabed and subsoil.

Continental shelf

The continental shelf is the seabed and subsoil of submarine areas extending out to the continental margin.

The Act does not apply to the coastal marine area (the area within 12 nautical miles of shore). This is regulated under the Resource Management Act 1991.

Activities and effects covered by the Act

The Act applies to the environmental effects of a specific list of activities that were not previously regulated in the EEZ or continental shelf. This includes some aspects of seabed mining and petroleum exploration and extraction, energy generation, and carbon capture and storage.

In the Act, an ‘effect’ refers to:

  • any positive or adverse effect; and
  • any temporary or permanent effect; and
  • any past, present, or future effect; and
  • any cumulative effect that arises over time or in combination with other effects; and
  • any potential effect of high probability; and
  • any potential effect of low probability that has a high potential impact.

How the Act provides for the Treaty relationship

The Act explicitly recognises the Crown’s responsibility to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (section 12 of the Act).

The following provisions exist for Treaty and Māori interests to be recognised and for Māori to participate in the marine consent process. 

  • The EPA’s Māori Advisory Committee is able to provide advice and assistance to the EPA on matters of policy, process and decision-making.
  • The EPA Act requires at least one member of the EPA to have knowledge and experience relating to the Treaty and tikanga Māori.
  • Along with environmental effects, the consideration of effects on existing interests is a key element of the legislation. Impact assessments (provided with marine consent applications) must identify the impacts on existing interests.
    Existing interests include:
    • the settlement of a historical claim under the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975
    • the settlement of a contemporary claim under the Treaty as provided for in an Act, including the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992
    • a protected customary right or customary marine title recognised under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011.
  • The Act therefore requires decision-makers to consider Treaty settlements and customary marine title granted under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011.
  • Discretionary marine consent applications are publically notified.
  • Copies of applications for discretionary and non-notified discretionary marine consents are served to iwi authorities and marine customary title-holders likely to be affected by the application.
  • The Minister is required to establish and use a process that gives iwi adequate time and opportunity to comment on the subject matter of proposed standards and regulations.

For more information see the Treaty of Waitangi website.

Changes to the Act since it was introduced

Two amendments to the EEZ Act have been passed by Parliament.

These are the:

The EEZ Amendment Act introduced a non-notified discretionary classification. It also transfered regulation of the discharge of harmful substances and the dumping of waste from the Maritime Transport Act 1994 to the EEZ Act. 

The EEZ Transitional Provisions Amendment Act addressed an issue with the transitional provisions in section 162 of the EEZ Act.

Proposed amendments to the Act - 2015

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) proposes a number of amendments to the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (the Act). 

The amendments to the Act are set out in Part 5 of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill [New Zealand Legislation website]. 

They include:

  • aligning certain consent processes with the RMA process for nationally significant proposals 
  • a new tool for national direction
  • new requirements specifically addressing decommissioning
  • amendments to existing provisions, including transitional and enforcement provisions
  • minor and technical amendments.

The Bill also moves some existing provisions in the Act to make it easier to use.

A summary outlining the objectives and policy intent of the Bill (including amendments to the Act) can be found in the General Policy Statement at the front of the Bill. 

Three supporting regulatory impact statements set out in more detail the policy proposals and any alternative options considered, see below.

Once the Bill has its first reading, it is expected that it will be referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee for consideration. There will be opportunity for public input during the select committee process.

For more information and timeframes about the select committee process, and how you can be involved see the Local Government and Environment Select Committee webpage [New Zealand Parliament website].

Submission timeframes will also be available on this webpage once these have been confirmed by the Local Government and Environment Select Committee.

A helpful diagram of the select committee process can be found at Have your say: Tell select committees and Parliament what you think [PDF, 103 KB] [New Zealand Parliament website].

How the Act deals with the lack of comprehensive environmental information in the EEZ

The decision-making framework for the legislation acknowledges that there is limited information about the EEZ and continental shelf environment and new technologies which may be employed there. Decision-makers are required to take into account the best available information, consider any uncertainty or insufficiency in the available information and exercise caution when information is uncertain or insufficient.

How the Act interacts with existing regulation in the EEZ

Regulations under the Act fill the gaps in the regulation of the EEZ and continental shelf. They do not override existing regulation which includes the following.

  • The Fisheries Act 1996 regulates the environmental effects of fishing.
  • The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 covers the management of health and safety risks and inspections of offshore petroleum structures.
  • Marine Protection Rules under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 covers marine pollution from oil spills.
  • The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 makes provision for the protection, conservation, and management of marine mammals within New Zealand and within New Zealand fisheries waters.
  • The Wildlife Act 1953 relates to the protection and control of wild animals and birds.
  • The Biosecurity Act 1993 provides for the management of biosecurity risks in the EEZ.
  • The Crown Minerals Act 1991 and Continental Shelf Act 1964 relate to the allocation of permits for prospecting, exploration and extraction.

Appeal rights under the Act

There are appeal rights on points of law to the High Court against the decision to grant or decline a discretionary marine consent, the conditions placed on a marine consent, and any decision to review or cancel a marine consent. Applicants and submitters may appeal decisions on discretionary marine consents and applicants may appeal decisions on non-notified discretionary marine consents.

Find out more

Cabinet papers and related material search

Resource Management Act 1991 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Ministers’ media releases on Beehive website

EEZ proposal offers sensible protection for oceans August 2013 

Exclusive economic zone law now in effect June 2013 

Next steps for new law to protect the environment April 2013 

Feedback sought on Exclusive Economic Zone regulations May 2012 

Environmental protection laws for oceans introduced August 2011 

Environmental protection law for oceans announced June 2011 [Beehive website]