Students make push for greater marine protection
A group of young people concerned New Zealand’s waters are being destroyed by over-fishing wants the Government to cut the red tape and make it easier for communities to set up marine reserves.
Students at Marlborough Girls’ College are fed up that a proposed update to marine protection hasn’t gone ahead, almost two-and-a-half years after it was announced, and have written to Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in the hope of kickstarting the stalled proposal.
The year 12 and 13 students have spent the past two terms investigating the almost 50-yearold Marine Reserves Act and its possible successor.
In January 2016, the previous National government put together a Marine Protected Areas Act with the intention that it would be up and running later that year. That proposal included turning the Marlborough Sounds into a recreational fishing park.
In October last year, the new Labour-led coalition government came into power and, on Tuesday, the Ministry for the Environment confirmed the policy reform in marine protection was ‘‘currently on hold’’.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said the letter had been received and read.
‘‘The prime minister receives hundreds of letters each week and it can take a bit of time to respond. However, the students will be hearing back from us soon,’’ the spokesperson said.
In their letter to the prime minister, the eight teenagers made a passionate plea outlining their personal connections with the Marlborough Sounds and first-hand experience of seeing fish numbers decline.
‘‘We have written to find out if this [the proposed Marine Protected Areas Act] is still a priority since the election,’’ they said.
‘‘If it is not a priority we strongly believe that it needs to be. Otherwise our marine life is in grave danger of diminishing sooner than we think.’’
The Department of Conservation said in its New Zealand Biodiversity Action Plan 2016-2020 that it expected new marine protection legislation to be established by 2018.
‘‘It is now 2018 and we have not seen this yet,’’ the students said.
In May, the students took to the streets of Blenheim and surveyed 100 locals on their knowledge of marine reserves.
They found 94 per cent of people knew what a marine reserve was but 55 per cent didn’t know that Marlborough had only one marine protected area, Long Island Reserve.
Eighty-two per cent were shocked that Marlborough had only one reserve and said they wanted more.
The class started the year by visiting Long Island Reserve and were inspired by the rich biodiversity of the area.
‘‘We thought, let’s put another one in place. That was our initial plan, to create another marine reserve in the Marlborough Sounds,’’ Demi Fearn said.
‘‘But we found the current act