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Limitations of Our marine environment 2016

There is much we do not know about New Zealand’s marine environment. The remoteness and large size of New Zealand’s marine area presents a huge research challenge for a small country. For example, most of our marine environment has never been surveyed, and while scientists have identified more than 17,000 marine species in our EEZ, experts estimate as many as 65,000 species are still unidentified (Gordon et al, 2010; Department of Conservation, nd).

Data and knowledge gaps make environmental reporting challenging

One of the challenges for our reporting programme is accessing data of sufficient quality and national breadth to include in our reporting products. Many human-related pressures on our marine environment are not routinely monitored (MacDiarmid et al, 2012a; Hewitt, 2014).

Agencies with monitoring roles include: regional councils, Ministry for Primary Industries, Environmental Protection Authority, Department of Conservation, and Maritime New Zealand. A range of public and private organisations run research programmes on the marine environment. Some hapū and iwi run their own monitoring programmes.

Our marine environment 2016 is primarily based on datasets that have passed our Environmental Reporting Programme’s quality standards. The datasets are available on our data service. In the absence of suitable national data for some issues, we have supported our findings with information from other reports and scientific literature, which we reference.

Data on sea-surface temperature and filling critical knowledge gaps

Data on sea-surface temperature provide a good example of a tension that can arise between reporting using the highest-quality data and providing a comprehensive report. Our reporting programme has very reliable satellite data on sea-surface temperature available from 1993, available from our data service. These data showed no determinable trend over the past two decades. This is not surprising, as on such short time scales – from year to year and decade to decade – natural variability can mask long-term trends.

Long-term data on sea-surface temperature do show a statistically significant trend. These data come from a range of measurement instruments and sites. While the data do not have the consistent and broad spatial coverage of satellite-only data across the entire time series, scientists still have high confidence in the findings.

Given the importance of long-term data to understanding how the state of our environment is changing, we report on both the satellite-only data and the long-term data in our key findings and the body of the report. However, we did not acquire the long-term data as part of our reporting programme and these are not available on our data service.

We discuss some of the most significant gaps in data in the chapter on future reporting.