Biodiversity is important for many reasons. All species and ecosystems have intrinsic value – that is, the value of existing, quite apart from any economic or other benefits that humans derive from them. The intrinsic value of biodiversity is recognised in our key environmental legislation, the Resource Management Act 1991. Māori have a responsibility as kaitiaki (guardians) to protect and preserve our animals, plants, and ecosystems – this responsibility is both to the natural environment itself, and future generations. Because 52 percent of New Zealand’s indigenous species are found nowhere else on Earth, our indigenous biodiversity also has global importance (Gordon, 2013). Reflecting the importance of our indigenous biodiversity within the global environment, New Zealand is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an agreement that aims to conserve and maintain biodiversity.
Humans are also dependent on biodiversity – it underpins our economy and way of life. The benefits that we get from biodiversity are called ‘ecosystem services’. These include the provision of food, materials, and ingredients for medicines; water purification and regulation; pollination; erosion regulation; social and cultural benefits, including recreation; and, perhaps most importantly, functions that support life, including the cycling of nutrients and the production of oxygen.
We also gain direct economic benefits from our unique indigenous biodiversity. Our reputation as a country with relatively unspoiled nature and unique animals such as the kiwi, kākāpō, and tuatara attracts visitors from all over the world.
What happens in our land, freshwater, and marine environments also affects biodiversity in other parts of the world. New Zealand provides habitat for many migratory species, including marine mammals, seabirds, and wading birds. In recognition of this, New Zealand is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (the Bonn Convention) and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention).