Environmental groups, Ngāti Kurī push for Kermadec sanctuary

By Moana Makapelu Lee
  • Wellington

Environmental groups and Ngāti Kurī met Parliamentarians today in the hopes to spur new support for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill.

World Wildlife Fund, Pew and Forest and Bird representatives gathered early Tuesday morning on Parliament lawns to campaign for the protection of New Zealand ocean.

Protesters awaited MPs in the rain till the afternoon to gift 120 vials of lapel pins containing special drops of ocean water collected from the Kermadec Islands.

They were meet with strong support from Labour, National and Green Party Members. But a no-show from NZ First who previously opposed the sanctuary’s 100% fishing ban.  

Chief executive of World Wildlife Fund Livia Esterhazy says “We will be protecting 15% of our ocean which is critical not only for the amazing wildlife that use that sanctuary as migratory migration paths but also for climate change in itself.”

The bill passed its first reading in 2016 however quickly became the centre of a controversial and legal dispute between the previous National Government, iwi bodies and Māori fisheries commission Te Ohu Kaimoana who claimed it breached Māori fishing rights.

Ngāti Kuri, who maintain mana whenua to the Kermadec’s see it differently.

Ngāti Kurī descendant Sheridan Waitai says "For us, it's our mana motuhake and our kaitiakitanga to its full and Rangitāhua is our last bastion, our islands are our last bastion of all our fauna, our flora. It’s our kōhanga where all the breeding cycles come for all our taonga.”

Lobbyist now look to Government to find a solution that would suit all parties, including iwi. However, Waitai believes allocations for fishing, such as the 5% fishing allocation Winston Peters’ support would not fit the bill.

"When you start to break off and allocate certain parts for fishing or for X, Y and Z it interferes with the breeding cycles and how certain species move."

The proposed sanctuary will cover 620,000km2 of ocean within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, what is said will be the world’s largest protected area.

It will cover the five islands of Raoul, Macauley, Cheeseman, Curtis and L’Epesrance situated halfway between Tonga and New Zealand.

Environmental groups and Ngāti Kurī now await a second reading of the bill.