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Section 1: Our ocean environment

New Zealand is a globally significant maritime nation. Our marine environment has an extraordinarily rich and unique array of animals, plants and habitats, extending from sea level to a depth of more than 10 kilometres, and from the subantarctic to the subtropical. Scientists estimate that as much as 80 per cent of New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity may be found in the sea. Over 15,000 marine species have been identified in our waters, but scientists believe there may be as many as 65,000. That represents around 10 per cent of global marine biodiversity. Our isolation means many of these species are not found anywhere else in
the world.

The ocean also supports our economy and thousands of jobs. Over 1500 commercial fishing boats operate around New Zealand’s coasts, with fisheries adding $1.5 billion to our exports each year. The oil and gas industry contributes $2.8 billion to the economy each year, approximately 90 per cent of which is from the sea. Our sea ports move more than 49 million tonnes of exports (99 per cent by weight of all exports) and imports, with a combined value of more than $75 billion annually.

Most of us live near the coast and use the ocean for recreational fishing, boating, swimming and diving. We have about 900,000 recreational boats, and about 20 per cent of us go on over 2.3 million recreational fishing trips each year, catching 17 million fish. Forty-two taiapure and mātaitai reserves[1] provide hapū/iwi with a role in management of fishing grounds of special significance to them.

Cumulatively, these commercial, recreational and cultural activities put pressure on our marine environment, which is intensified by global and local factors such as ocean acidification, sea temperature rise and land-based runoff. Given our reliance on the ocean, we need to ensure a system is in place to support its ongoing health and productivity.

The Government’s ambition is for New Zealand to be a world leader in the sustainable management and protection of our marine environment, so New Zealanders can continue to enjoy and benefit from its wealth for generations to come. The Government also wants to be able to market New Zealand’s exported seafood as product coming from a nation that is a careful steward of its ocean environment.


  • [1] A taiapure is a local management tool established in an area that has customarily been of special significance to iwi or hapū as a source of food or for spiritual or cultural reasons. Mātaitai reserves recognise and provide for customary food gathering by Māori and the special relationship between tāngata whenua and places of importance for customary food gathering. Mātaitai reserves can be declared over identified traditional fishing grounds where a special relationship exists with tāngata whenua.