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Published 15 May 2012

Generating sustainable wealth from vast ocean resources requires careful approach

Generating sustainable wealth from New Zealand’s vast ocean resources requires us to proceed carefully, according to a new paper produced by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Marine mining, bio-discovery and marine power generation all provide opportunities to generate extensive wealth for New Zealand in the future but there is a lack of information about the vulnerability or resilience of our ocean ecosystems.

In its “Future Marine Resource Use” paper the Royal Society of New Zealand says that responsible use of these marine resources requires us to take a long-term view of potential developments.

New Zealand’s fisheries provide an example of how our natural resources can be managed for both short- and long-term benefit. Unrestricted fishing led to a crisis in both the ocean ecosystems and the fishing industry that depended upon those ecosystems. The introduction of the Quota Management System (QMS) in 1986 saved both the fish populations and the fishing industry by creating regulations and incentives for responsible use.

“The same strong management will be needed for other marine resources,” says Dr Jez Weston, Senior Policy Analyst at the Royal Society of New Zealand.

“That management will need to be underpinned by sound science so that policy-makers can be informed about the cumulative impacts of use, how vulnerable ecosystems are, and to understand how people value and use marine ecosystems.”

New Zealand is responsible for a vast expanse of ocean, from the tropics to Antarctica, which cover an area similar to the oceans claimed by the United Kingdom. Fisheries and oil and gas extraction in these oceans already generate substantial wealth and marine energy generation, marine mining, undersea gas hydrates, and our unique biodiversity are all potential sources of similar wealth.

For example, the electricity generating potential of the tidal flow in Cook Strait may be comparable to that of Huntly Power Station and our entire west coast is exposed to powerful waves from the storm-swept Southern Ocean creating prime sites for wave power. Over the next two decades, marine power is expected grow rapidly as it becomes cost competitive in the same way that wind power has over the past two decades.

Another area for potential wealth generation is in marine mining. New Zealand’s seabed holds a wide selection of minerals including ironsands off the Taranaki Coast, phosphates on the Chatham Rise, and a wide range of metals from the volcanic vents of the Kermadec Arc. However, the use of these is hampered by our lack of information about how vulnerable or resilient the ecosystems around those minerals are.

“Also needing consideration is the potential acceptable impact of mining, when considering other human impacts on those ecosystems such as overfishing, sediment and nutrient pollution from on-land activities, and warming and acidification from climate change,” says Dr Weston.

The paper has been produced by the Royal Society of New Zealand as one of a series that seeks to inform the public on emerging and sometimes contentious issues around science and technology.

Download the paper and view the Science Media Centre briefing

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi