March 1994 Dr W.J. Ballantine

A history and a vision of the future. Conservation Detectives, read the vision of 1994 and then try to find out where the vision came true and where it did not. Then answer the question "Why" and you will be a wiser person.


For more than 25 years I have been trying to promote the idea of marine reserves. Places in the sea where:

(1) There is no extractive use at all and as little human disturbance as we can arrange.

(2) The natural marine life is allowed to grow, breed and interact unhindered.

(3) The conservation of genetic, species and community diversity is maximised.

(4) We can learn about the natural dynamics and variations of the sea.

(5) Research science, advanced training and ordinary education is encouraged.

(6) Our natural marine heritage is represented and displayed to the fullest extent.

(7) People are welcome to view, appreciate and understand that heritage.

(8) By comparison, we have a better idea of what we are doing to the rest of the sea.

(9) There is a buffer and insurance against our ignorance, greed or carelessness.

(10) There is a capacity to support and sustain the entire ecosystem.

From one viewpoint, not a lot has happened yet. Only 10 marine reserves have been established and 5 of these are only a few months old.

However the idea is creeping ahead. 5 more formal marine reserve proposals sit on Ministers' desks in Wellington awaiting decisions, and at least a dozen more possible marine reserves are at an advanced stage of public discussion.

Looked at in another way, New Zealand is already a world leader in this field, simply because we have actually made a few "no take" marine reserves. I have been invited to North America in May to tell them what we are doing, and senior officials from U.K. were here last year to find out about our marine reserves.

This talk relates how these things came about; what we could do to speed up the process; and really earn a position as leader.

The factual and historical background

I am an ecologist and old enough to be proud of it. 35 years ago, when I was a student, ecology was not even academically respectable. But I was young and brash to the point of arrogance, and became one anyway. Not only did I become an ecologist, I became a marine ecologist and then came out to New Zealand! You had to be very brash indeed to do such terrible things in those days - most of the traffic was the other way. I'm not quite certain, but I think I was the first post-doctoral fellow from at the University of Auckland.

One of the basic principles of ecology is 'Always ask the locals.' They know where things are, how to observe them, when things happen, and so on. In this sense they are the experts. I spent most of my first year or so here learning from the locals and I still do so frequently. But another principle is 'Never to accept local attitudes about significance'

Never trust a local's view of the global importance of their surroundings. Precisely because they have always lived there, locals are the least likely to know, and it is not their fault.

The factual background

What is significant about the marine situation of New Zealand on a global scale? With a different background I may be able to see it more easily than you, and having spent more than 30 years in New Zealand, I may be able to tell you without annoying you too much. How many of you really knew the following simple facts? Simple but highly significant and not readily appreciable by locals.

(i) We have the most maritime position on the planet (centre of water hemisphere)

(ii) We live on the smallest and most isolated continent

(iii) This is last sizeable and inhabitable place that people found (1000 yrs ago)

(iv) Our population is still small by world standards

(v) We are surrounded by a huge, diverse and rich marine environment.

(vi) Consequently, we are custodians of more marine life and habitat than anyone else

(vii) We have the best opportunity to lead the world in marine conservation.

Do we? Do we even know there is that opportunity? So far the answer has been mainly "No", but the idea of "Yes" is creeping up in a few cases. Mostly we think of the above facts as disadvantages, making it harder to get our products to market, to go on overseas trips, or to join in the latest swinging fashions, but occasionally we glimpse the idea of advantage. One glimpse of the opportunity came up in 1965, and appreciation of it is still progressing in 1994.

If you don't learn history, you may be forced to relive the tough bits. Since most New Zealanders know little of the history of marine reserves, we have to go over the same arguments for each proposal. This not only consumes a lot of time and energy, it also distracts attention from the basic issues, and prevents progress above the creep rate. Despite being an academic and having Irish parents, I have some natural diffidence. I know it sounds boastful to keep talking about how we fought and persuaded for years to achieve the first marine reserve. It is also boring for those who have heard it all before and tedious work for me, which I would like to dodge.

However, history also teaches us that radically new ideas take time. Not just time to understand the logical and factual points, but time to assimilate and adjust. Attempts to rush such ideas through are counterproductive in the long-run, even if this seem more efficient for a while. Although all the objections to marine reserves have been thoroughly investigated already and have been shown to be misconceptions, or irrelevant, shortsighted, purely selfish or simply untrue, this does not mean we can dismiss them. On the contrary, even the most intelligent, concerned and educated citizens need to have them rehearsed each and every time another one is suggested.

So what is the history of marine reserves and what does it actually teach us? Are there any lessons that indicate principles or is it just a series of virtually random events?

The History of Marine Reserves

1965 The idea of a marine reserve was first mooted at a Leigh Marine Laboratory committee meeting. A formal request was made to government for a tiny piece of sea to be designated for scientific observations and experiments.

Government replied that there was no such legislation and no urgency for it.

Some members of the University decided to "go public" on the issue.

1965-71 A lengthy campaign to get legislation which would enable reservation of parts of the sea for non-exploitive purposes - including science. This required the academics to consider why citizens should give up "rights" to fish in some places. Surprisingly, there turned out to be many potential advantages - quite apart from science.

1971 Marine Reserves Act passed. Although at the time this seemed narrow in scope (science was the only justification for marine reserves), and tight in application (no fishing of any kind), in fact it established some uniquely sensible principles.

1971-77 A long battle to get the first application accepted. In order to counter-act objections from other parochial interests, it proved necessary to educate and inform the general public (and ourselves!) on some very wide issues -

What does live in the sea, and how much do we know about it?

What is our present management of the sea, and does it do what we want?

1977 The first marine reserve was established, officially titled Cape Rodney to Okakari Point Marine Reserve, but it is usually called "Leigh" or even "Goat Island". It stretches along 5km of open coast and extends 800m seawards.

1981 The second Marine Reserve established, at the Poor Knights Islands. Unfortunately, for practical reasons, this contained (via an amendment to the Act) a dilution of the principle. Some fishing, by some methods, was allowed in some parts of this reserve, because charter boat skippers, the only people going there, felt a total ban would not enable them to maintain their business.

1982-87 An unofficial but widespread campaign for more marine reserves, promoted by a variety of enthusiasts in marine science, diving clubs, etc. It involved:

(i) Developing the use of, and interest in, the existing reserves

(ii) Surveying new sites and trying to make more applications

(iii) Trying other legislative routes - 3 "marine parks" established

(iv) Getting other agencies involved - e.g. the Lands and Survey Department and local territorial authorities

v) Increasing public awareness of the issues

Only the first and last of these had significant success.

1987 The establishment of the Department of Conservation, with a real but limited mandate for marine conservation. For the first time there was an official body concentrating on conservation, and marine conservation was specifically included. However, although it could advocate marine conservation and marine reserves, there were no targets and "Fisheries" maintained veto rights.

1987-90 Inventing, from virtually nothing, a basic system for tackling the problem:

Staff training, and exploration of the regional coasts

Getting the public involved, selecting some marine reserve sites

Promoting public interest in marine conservation

Holding meetings, producing questionnaires, starting "ginger groups"

` Beginning the formal processes, forming steering committees, etc.

1990 Kermadec marine reserve approved. A very large and very remote area,

very useful in global conservation terms, but with little social effect in N.Z.

1991 Kapiti Island marine reserve approved. The first time general conservation principles faced the arguments of existing local and traditional users.

1992 Mayor Is , Hahei, and Long Is. marine reserves approved. Respectively:-

The first marine reserve promoted by Maori groups

The first 'typical' and 'mainland' marine reserve since Leigh

The first promoted by locals with no official standing (dive clubs)

1993 Fiordland (2) and Abel Tasman (NW Nelson) marine reserves approved

All political parties propose more marine reserves at the election

Of course, compared to the land situation, where it would be hard to count all the national parks, scenic reserves, wildlife refuges, scientific reserves, forest parks, this marine effort is still trivially small.

If you wish to understand why it has taken so long to do so little, all you have to do is review the history of your own thoughts on the matter.

When did you first even contemplate the idea of having bits of sea with no fishing?

When did you begin to support the idea?

When did you tell a politician that you cared about such things?

Why are you surprised that not much has happened yet? There are plenty of people doing even less than you, and there are some doing all they can to oppose the idea.

The theoretical background

Still the idea does creep forward steadily. The politics of conservation, unlike most political matters are not so much a pendulum as a rachet. Most political ideas just swing to and fro, and the more urgent the matter the faster the swings. When I suggested to some members of parliament recently that a week was a long time in politics, they unanimously shouted back "A day!". However, the reverse is also true, the more fundamental a point, the slower the progress but the smaller the swings of opinion. It takes a lot of time and trouble to establish some extra protection, a park, a wildlife refuge or a marine reserve, but it takes even more to remove them.

It is hard to keep track of public opinion and difficult to think in terms of exponential increases, but we can try. In 1965 there were only 6 people in New Zealand who knew and cared about marine reserves. Let's suppose that over the next two years they managed to convince 6 more. If we keep repeating that, doubling the number of "converts" every two years, there are now about 100,000 believers in marine reserves. Maintaining the same rate, the whole population will have been converted to the idea in about 10 years time!

The model is pretty crude, but it is not too far from the truth and can be useful. It suggests that the most difficult and dangerous time, in social and political terms, is right now. Roughly 100,000 people in the country know and care about marine reserves. Say half the Forest and Bird Society members, half the keen divers, most of those with some ecological training and a good scatter, but minority, of fishermen. This is enough to force some action; but it is far from a majority of the population. Furthermore, it is also enough to look like a pressure group and inspire some counter-action. It has already done so.

Does all this mean that the most we can hope for is further creep, with the rehearsal of all the arguments a little quicker on the umpteenth occasion. No, I don't think so. There is a third historical lesson. After a number of successful trials of a new idea, it is possible for citizens to perceive the advantages of the idea in principle. When widespread agreement on the principles has been achieved, the application of the idea can proceed much more rapidly.

The sea is public domain, a common property. Each and every citizen has the same right to a viewpoint, ecologically and democratically. This feature needs to be stressed carefully. The boundaries are wider than we tend to suppose. In fact, if you live on this planet, you have a connection with (and hence a fundamental interest in) every piece of the sea, just as you do for the whole atmosphere. The idea that some nation or group owns its local atmosphere is widely recognised as dangerous nonsense, even when they are the ones who regulate what happens there. The same is true of the sea. There is only one sea, it is all mobile; physically and biologically it all connects. We dimly recognise this when we send our politicians to the United Nations to stop the Taiwanese drift-netting in the wide expanses of the Pacific, or dispatch representatives to the International Whaling Commission to prevent Japanese harvesting whales in the Antarctic.

For the present discussion we can stick to the New Zealand region. We should start to realise that existing, traditional or local exploiters of a particular piece of sea do not have exclusive rights. Indeed, ecologically they have no more rights than other citizens, except where their extra knowledge gives them more chance of success in management. Even that is not very likely, since most of their knowledge and skill is about the exploitation, not about the natural processes that sustain the production or help to maintain some dynamic equilibrium. Although this is fairly obvious, it is far from being generally accepted. Our law still reflects the idea that the life of the sea is just another resource to be shared out, it does not reflect our ignorance of the natural processes or our complete lack of control over these.

The following vision was written in 1994. It is now time to reflect on how well New Zealand did in implementing this vision. Read the vision and then investigate to see what actually happened. Where did the vision work? Where did it not meet expectations? Why? These are critical questions only you can answer.

The future of marine reserves (some hopeful, hypothetical history!)

1994 A policy announcement: - "A representative network of no-take marine reserves will be developed, and be required under both fishery and coastal policies. The aim is to achieve 10% by area of all habitats by 2000."

At least 6 new reserves established including: Kaikoura, Nugget Pt,

Pollen Is, Gt. Barrier, Long Bay.

A programme established to promote marine reserves combining:

science - e.g. baseline surveys and experimental monitoring

formal education - in schools and tertiary institutions

recreation - "entertaining" by informing the general public about marine life in marine reserves and involving interest groups in the other parts of the programme

tourism - the idea of marine reserves as natural attractions

1995 The N.Z. Coastal Policy is amended to require regional marine reserve plans which now need to include:

(i) identifying the main marine habitats in the region

(ii) selecting suitable sites for representative marine reserves

(iii) identiying the special or unique marine features of the region

(iv) selecting "replicate" and "special" marine reserve sites

Fisheries policy changed to require a general ecosystem approach and a precautionary/rebuilding element in when setting quotas (some of which can be offset against the area of marine reserves established). This to include:

(i) identification of 5% by area for "inshore" representative MRs

(ii) identification of 10% by area for EEZ representative MRs

At least 12 new marine reserves approved, including most suggested earlier.

1996 Stage I programme complete:

(i) All regions with at least two "representative" marine reserves, and most with at least one "special" reserve.

(ii) All Regional Coastal Marine Reserve Plans approved, and a national programme for scientific monitoring announced.

(iii) All Fisheries Marine Reserve Plans approved, and a programme for monitoring the effects on exploited species announced.

1997 A programme to use marine reserves for science, education, recreation and tourism, arising from the 1994 programme but adding efforts to:

(i) increase visits by schools and involve them as guides for others

(ii) support production of films, videos, & books on marine reserves

(iii) use marine reserves to show effects of management outside

(iv) attract international interest/assistance for all aspects

1998 Stage II complete:

5% representation completed for all regions and fisheries areas.

Linkage of educational and monitoring programmes commenced.

Formal enquires from overseas for advice on marine reserves.

2000 Stage III complete: Full 10% representation completed.

A public review of the whole policy and programme suggests:

(i) Direct linkage of fisheries and coastal management at all levels

(ii) Unification of most crown marine agencies

(iii) The need for any further marine reserves can now be calculated

The section above is just a set of ideas, but it could turn out like that, and I believe it should. The suggestions are politically practical (stranger things have already happened!), and ecologically sensible (if we wish to protect our marine heritage and our economic interests). What will actually happen will depend on the views of the general public - that is-


Do you think there should be more marine reserves? In your region or just a long way off? Just where nobody objects, or do you want all marine life and habitats represented in areas full protection? Would you like a little scatter of marine reserves or a system large enough to sustain the natural processes in the sea.? Please inform your regional and parliamentary representatives of your views on marine reserves.