Oceans policy needed to protect $7 billion environment – Law Professor

13 October 2020

You might think as a nation New Zealand would actively protect an environment that contributed over $7 billion to the economy, but University of Canterbury (UC) Law Professor Karen Scott says we aren’t doing enough to protect New Zealand’s maritime zone – something that could be addressed, in part, with an oceans policy.

  • UC Law Professor Karen Scott

    UC Law Professor Karen Scott is interested in research including international environmental law, public international law, law of the sea, water law and Antarctica.

SDG 14 Life below water

Sustainable Development Goal 14 is about "Life below water" and is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015.

You might think as a nation New Zealand would actively protect an environment that contributed over $7 billion to the economy, but University of Canterbury (UC) Law Professor Karen Scott says we aren’t doing enough to protect New Zealand’s maritime zone – something that could be addressed, in part, with an oceans policy.

New Zealand started the process of developing an oceans policy 20 years ago, but abandoned it primarily owing to disagreements between Māori and the Crown over the foreshore and seabed.

In 2012, legislation for New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone – which is a 200-nautical-mile maritime zone extending from New Zealand’s baselines – addressed some gaps in oceans governance but it is not designed to function as an oceans policy.

An expert in the law of the sea, Professor Scott, funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, is researching the question of whether Aotearoa New Zealand needs an Oceans Policy and whether it would improve oceans governance and environmental outcomes for New Zealand?

“An Oceans Policy would provide overarching goals, a set of principles and values which can provide the framework that legislation, initiatives and organisations can work from in order to manage ocean resources and protect the ocean environment,” Professor Scott says.

“My feeling is that oceans have been neglected in New Zealand. If you think about key environmental issues they usually focus on freshwater and waterways, agriculture and climate. That’s not to say these aren’t important, they are, but the ocean is often neglected and one role of an Oceans Policy is to increase its profile and make sure oceans are actively considered when decisions are made that could affect the ocean.”

Part of Professor Scott’s research focused on how other states have implemented oceans policies and their outcomes.

“Australia and Canada have adopted Oceans Policies with differing results. I’m not suggesting these policies provide a model for how New Zealand should implement an Oceans Policy, but they do provide a learning opportunity for us,” she says.

“In New Zealand the development of an oceans policy must involve Māori in a way that is meaningful such as through co-governance. An oceans policy provides an opportunity to incorporate Tikanga Maori and Matauranga Maori into oceans governance in New Zealand.”

New Zealand’s maritime zone is 21 times the size of its terrestrial area, that’s 5.7million km² and about 30% of our endemic biodiversity is found in the ocean. To put it in context, New Zealand has the fifth largest economic zone.

“From a geographic point of view we are lucky that we can claim the maximum extent of international maritime limits, which typically most states can’t,” says Professor Scott.

“We think of ourselves as having a clean green image, when really it should be a clean blue image where our marine environment is important to us.

“My hope is that in the future we will see shipping, fishing, offshore oil and gas exploration and recreational activities managed in a more integrated way. Also I’d like to see a more proactive approach to protecting our marine environment.”

Professor Scott’s extensive article on the importance of an oceans policy will be published in the 2021 Ocean Yearbook. She also presented her findings to a number of interested groups including Maritime New Zealand.

For further information please contact:

UC Communications team, media@canterbury.ac.nz, Ph: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168