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Executive summary

An overview

The overriding finding of this report is that human pressures are causing changes to our oceans and marine biodiversity that have implications for generations of New Zealanders to come.

We are leaving uncertainty for future generations

Increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide – largely from global burning of fossil fuels – and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – are changing the state of New Zealand’s oceans. Our oceans are warming and becoming more acidic. These changes will continue into the foreseeable future.

In addition, past and present-day human activities have put such pressure on our native wildlife that some species and subspecies of marine birds and mammals are at risk of extinction.

We cannot be certain that future New Zealanders will enjoy the same benefits from the marine environment as we do. The extent and rate of change from ocean acidification and warming over centuries depends on what we – and the rest of the world – do about global greenhouse gas emissions.

A lack of data makes firm conclusions difficult in some important areas

A secondary overriding finding is that gaps in national data make it hard to draw firm conclusions in some important areas. For example, we cannot quantify the state of marine habitats at a national level, or the full ecological impacts of commercial, recreational, and customary fishing on coastal and open ocean ecosystems.

Our reporting programme is committed to improving national environmental data over time, but research and monitoring of our coastal waters and vast ocean area are expensive for a small country. It may take years to substantively improve our knowledge in some areas. However, no generation of New Zealanders will ever make decisions on their relationship with the marine environment based on perfect information, and there are potentially high costs of delaying action.