favour of the motion. Remarkably, however, one of the two governments opposed was New Zealand, which voted against saving its own endangered species.
The Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are confined to the waters of New Zealand, and have been at risk species for many years. The Maui’s dolphins are currently at severe risk, despite having been officially protected for more than 30 years. They are among the rarest and smallest dolphins in the world; Hector’s are registered as nationally threatened, and Maui’s are critically endangered. In 2011, it was estimated that just 55 adult Maui’s dolphins remain, mainly found off the coast of a small part of New Zealand’s North Island.
Threats to the two dolphin species include entanglement in fishermen’s gill nets and trawling, as well as being affected by dolphin watching boats. Campaign groups in New Zealand have long been attempting to ban the use of gill nets. However, these protection measures have been consistently delayed or over-turned by the fishing industry in a series of court orders.
The New Zealand government’s decision to oppose the protection motion has sparked national outrage throughout the country. “By voting against essential protection for the world’s most endangered marine dolphin, the New Zealand government has acted shamefully and can no longer claim to be leaders in conservation,” said Rebecca Bird, Marine Programme Manager at WWF. “If we fail to act now, it will not be long before Maui’s disappear from our waters forever.”
WWF is one of several international campaign organisations that are fighting to
protect the Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins from becoming extinct. Greenpeace, ECO and Forest & Bird all voiced their support for the members of the IUCN that
endorsed the motion in Jeju. Greenpeace accused the New Zealand government of putting business deals ahead of environmental concern. It said the government, despite once being a pioneer in green issues, has turned its back on green deals, and is focused instead on financial gain. “Our government is letting minority business interests ride rough shod over the values of ordinary New Zealanders,” said Karli Thomas, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner. “By voting against this call to protect our most endangered dolphin, New Zealand has arrogantly dismissed international concern and has severely tarnished our global reputation.”
The news of the New Zealand government’s decision to oppose the protection of its marine life comes at the same time as the release of a scathing new report, 'Wonders of the Sea’, by the The Environmental Defence Society. The report cites the reasons behind New Zealand’s dwindling numbers of rare sea mammals, which include buck-passing, lack of responsibility and prioritising economic issues over science and nature.
The report highlights a number of holes in New Zealand’ marine protection
programmes. One problem was inadequate conservation research funding, as well as a weakening Department of Conservation. It also states that, despite the passing of Marine Mammals Protection Act in 1978, promises to introduce a population management have still not been initiated. The plan was supposed to have introduced regulations and limits on fishing by-catch (the numbers of marine life accidentally caught in fishing nets). The report also states that the
management of marine conservation is ineffective as it is not being led by
conservationists; for example the effects of toxic waste and oil spills are
currently managed by the government, and fishing threats are managed by the
biased fishing industry.
The EDS report also finds that marine research is left primarily to universities,
which lack adequate funding. “The Department of Conservation is grossly
underfunded and conservation science in general is grossly underfunded," said
Auckland University’s marine scientist, Dr Rochelle Constantine.
One thing is certain; if the Maui’s dolphin and other endangered species are to
stand any chance of long term survival, the New Zealand government is going to
have to take urgent action. The EDC report recommends strengthening the Marine Mammals Protection Act to include regulations on by-catch, giving the DoC the funding it needs to take a leadership role, and to allow the Minister of
Conservation to make final decisions on marine life concerns.