Economic and environmental concerns collide over EEZ, marine bill

National’s economic plans to expand marine-based industries to get the economy moving have some environmental groups worried, despite encouragement from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The government’s proposed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf Bill has returned from the select committee stage, again opening debate on the balance between economic and environmental prosperity.

The bill proposes a management regime to cover activities including seabed mining, energy generation, carbon capture and storage, marine farming and some aspects of petroleum exploration and extraction.

These industries are more than 12 nautical miles from the New Zealand shoreline and are not covered by the Resource Management Act.

Clare Browning, of Forest and Bird, believes that the EEZ should be managed as the Resource Management Act does with on-land industries, and in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“UNCLOS gives New Zealand rights over the resources in the EEZ. But countries only have the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources subject to “their duty to protect and preserve the marine environment.”

She said the bill unfairly favours natural resource exploitation over of the environment and could open New Zealand up to international litigation.

Forest & Bird’s submission was in line with opposition points from Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright as well as Labour and the Greens.

“This legislation should be more focused on the environment; there is other legislation that provides economic balance,” said Wright.

The Royal Society of New Zealand’s recent paper Future Marine Resource Use says responsible use of these marine resources could be hugely beneficial but requires us to take a long-term view.

The study said projects with huge potential included tidal power generation and marine mining, but both would require strong management and regulation.

“The Cook Strait has world class potential due to its large size and flows, followed by Foveaux Strait,” said the report.

Dr Cornel De Ronde, of GNS Science, said that the majority of New Zealanders were unaware that more than 96 percent of New Zealand’s sovereign state was under water but marine industries contributed only 3 percent of our GDP.

“Our EEZ is over 7 million square kilometres, with plenty of oil and mineral potential. That’s almost the size of Australia. So, we need to stop thinking of our economic zone as these two little islands.”

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