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Rarest dolphins under threat from oil exploration in NZ sanctuary, say Greens

 

Maui’s Dolphin in New Zealand

The Maui’s dolphin is only found off the west coast of New Zealand’s north island. Photograph: Silvia Scarli/WWF NZ

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rarest dolphins under threat from oil exploration in NZ sanctuary, say Greens” was written by Oliver Milman, for theguardian.com on Friday 15th August 2014 07.49 UTC

The New Zealand government has been accused of threatening the survival of the Maui’s dolphins, one of world’s rarest dolphin breeds, with just 55 of the animals remaining.

The Maui’s dolphin is endemic to New Zealand and is only found off the west coast of the country’s north island. The IUCN lists the species as critically endangered.

Although a special sanctuary for the species was established in 2008, conservation groups have accused the New Zealand government of hastening its demise by allowing oil exploration and fishing in the area.

A recent report by the International Whaling Commission cites “extreme concern” for the species, calling for a ban on trawling fisheries throughout its habitat. The report stated current protection “falls short of that required to reverse the Maui’s dolphin decline”.

The New Zealand Greens party is also critical of the government’s decision to permit oil and gas exploration across a huge area of land and sea, with around 3,000 square kilometres of this area overlapping with the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary.

Maui’s Dolphin in New Zealand

An International Whaling Commission report states current protection “falls short of that required to reverse the Maui’s dolphin decline”. Photograph: Silvia Scarli/WWF NZ

Gareth Hughes, a Greens MP, told Guardian Australia that the government should rule out any oil drilling or seabed mining in the dolphin sanctuary.

“There are a huge number of threats, from dolphins being caught in indiscriminate fishing nets to underwater explosions from exploration that can deafen the dolphins or drive them out of the sanctuary,” he said.

“The government has to listen to the international scientific experts and give this species a shot at survival. We need to develop alternative methods of fishing to transition industry to more sustainable methods, or we will risk our good international brand for fish.”

But Nick Smith, New Zealand’s conservation minister, told Guardian Australia the government was taking great care to ensure Maui’s dolphin would defy predictions from some scientists that the species may die out within 20 years.

“There are some extreme green groups that are critical of the government’s steps to protect the Maui’s dolphin but I’m confident I’m doing everything practical to ensure their survival,” he said.

Smith said the government had already banned set-net fishing, which he called the “overwhelming risk” to the dolphin. He added that oil and gas exploration had occurred off the north island for 40 years without any detrimental impact upon the species.

“It would be economic lunacy to shut down the petroleum industry in that area,” he said. “It would cost the economy NZ$1bn a year and mean that we’d move away from natural gas to coal, which would hugely increase our greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

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