The importance of oceans to New Zealand

This page for kids explains the role of oceans and how we use our ocean environment.

The ocean provides many different benefits for people. For starters the oceans are needed for life to exist on earth. They absorb carbon dioxide from the air and this helps to keep things cool, and they also store heat so the ocean helps to control the climate. The ocean is also a major source of fresh water for plants and animals on land through the process of evaporation. 

In New Zealand the oceans provide us with many benefits, but the three main benefits are:

  1. Seafood and fisheries
  2. Energy, transport and services
  3. Recreational and cultural uses.

Seafood and fisheries

The sale of seafood to other countries earns New Zealand a lot of money. It is our fourth highest money earner (after dairy products, meat and forestry). Seafood export revenues for the year ended June 2019 were $1.96 billion. There are many jobs in catching and selling our seafood to other countries – over 10,000 people work in New Zealand’s fishing business. But not all the seafood caught is sent to other countries. A lot of it is eaten and enjoyed right here by us. Seafood is a popular part of many New Zealander’s diet. New Zealand’s seafood is also produced in marine farms. This type of farming is also known as aquaculture.

Energy and transportation

Energy from the ocean is another resource the ocean provides. The Maui Oil and Gas field supplies about 75% of New Zealand’s natural gas needs.

There are also new ways to create energy from our ocean. In other countries wind turbines are being placed offshore to use the energy from the wind. The development of tidal turbines is also happening. These turbines use the energy from the tides as they change from high tide to low tide.

The ocean is also a transport system. The sea brought all of our first settlers to New Zealand, by waka from Polynesia and by ship from Europe. We use the sea to ship over 99% of the goods that we sell to other countries.

Our ocean supplies parts of our country with electricity and enables us to talk to friends and relatives around the country and overseas via telecommunication cables.

Recreational uses

It would be hard for most of us who were born in New Zealand to imagine living in a country with few or no beaches. We all live within easy travel distance to a beach. For many of us the ocean plays a huge part in our recreational activities. These marine activities are almost endless. They can range from a quiet walk on the beach, family holidays, building sand castles, a game of beach cricket, or activities in the water like swimming, surfing, fishing or boating.

Tourism in our marine environment is also popular. Tourism creates jobs for many New Zealanders and attracts visitors from other countries to visit our special marine areas. There are lots of different types of tourist activities including - whale and bird watching, swimming with dolphins or seals, diving expeditions and kayaking trips.

Māori and the sea

The oceans hold particular importance to Māori. The sea is a food source, and also has spiritual and cultural values. Historically it was a very important food source to the tribes who lived near the ocean. It was also used to trade with other tribes. Giving seafood or kaimoana was also a very important way to show hospitality and generosity at hui (meetings) and tangi (funerals) and other gatherings. Today Māori are still very closely involved with the marine environment. Many of the traditional Māori practices still exist as well as being involved with some of New Zealand’s largest fishing businesses.

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