Despite the damage that has already been inflicted on New Zealand’s environmental record, an opportunity exists for the nation to be one of the world’s leading environmental protection and sustainable use advocates.
Nothing would create a greater, more effective influence on the next session of the UN General Assembly, than a government self-imposed moratorium on all bottom trawling in the EEZ, and on New Zealand vessels trawling in the high seas.
The importance of interconnected ocean ecosystems .....
We now live in a world where science has established how reliant life on Earth is to interconnected systems. And large-scale global interconnection can be expected in the world’s oceans.
There is a clear consensus amongst the scientific community that deepsea ecosystems perform important ecological functions, in spite of limited knowledge of them.
The peculiar characteristics of life in deep seabed environments, particularly hydrothermal vents, offer clues about the evolution of life on Earth. Areas where methane hydrates are found provide an important service in the maintenance of global climate balance, as a result of their function as a greenhouse buffer.
The role of hydrothermal plumes in supporting upper zooplankton communities, demonstrates the importance of these ecosystems in maintaining the global carbon cycle. Ecological interlinking has been observed between different deep seabed ecosystems, as well as between the ecosystems of different ocean realms.
The deepsea is increasingly recognised as a great reservoir of Earth’s biodiversity, comparable to the great biodiversity of tropical rainforests. The annual loss of 52,000 sq.km, and a total loss of 697,000 sq.km of rainforest in Brazil alone, has been identified by scientific sources to have a major impact on global climate change.
The world cannot afford the high risk of ignoring bottom trawling disturbance of 12,000,000 sq.km of continental shelf seafloor each year.
It should be anticipated that deepsea ecosystem destruction may have a major global impact on interconnected ocean systems, if not the entire global control mechanism.
The New Zealand government must vigorously step into the international process that will address interconnected systems, to determine an equality in sharing the natural resources of the high seas that all nations have a rightful interest in.
New Zealand must also broaden government decision-making on activities in the deep ocean.
Instead of favouring commercial fishing, the government must place the highest priority on the identification of undiscovered ecosystem functions, not the least of which might be to support regeneration of deepsea fish populations. Urgent action is crucial because unknown species and possibly ecosystems are being lost by blind seafloor destruction before they can even be identified.
The long-term advantage of the best possible international “green” reputation for New Zealand, and the benefit for all food exports and tourism, must be weighed against the short-term financial gain of one primary industry.
The challenge for industry and the government requires foresight and courage, in adopting precautionary measures, to
maintain the sustainability of natural resources on which the New Zealand fishing industry ultimately depends for its long-term survival.