New Zealand Launches Ocean Survey to Back Sovereignty Claim

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, March 16, 2005 (ENS) - To "exercise our sovereign rights," the New Zealand government today embarked upon a 15 year survey of the country's ocean resources. Ocean Survey 20/20, announced aboard a deep-water vessel at Queens Wharf, will bolster New Zealand's claim to extend its sovereign jurisdiction out to the edge of the continental shelf.

The ocean area administered by New Zealand is currently 18 times the size of its land area and it is set to expand within four years. The area of seabed administered will increase by one-third on confirmation by the United Nations of New Zealand's jurisdiction to the edge of the continental shelf.

Current boundaries were set by a 2004 treaty between New Zealand and Australia. In order to gain sovereignty over more of the continental shelf, New Zealand must investigate the sea bottom and prove its extent. New Zealand's submission can be lodged with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by 2009.


Steve Maharey is Minister for Research, Science and Technology. (Photo courtesy Government of New Zealand)
Launching Ocean Survey 20/20, Minister for Research, Science and Technology Steve Maharey said, "There has been a huge increase in the income New Zealand generates from the oceans over the last two decades, largely as a result of the establishment of the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and the development of aquaculture. There is potential for much greater increases in wealth from the oceans, especially as the area New Zealand has control over increases in the future to the edge of the continental shelf."

Maharey said opportunities for new wealth could come from the biotechnology area, and species yet to be discovered could "provide routes to novel substances."

"The microbiological community under the sea could provide new opportunities for a range of industrial and pharmaceutical processes. The mineral wealth could also provide considerable opportunities. And of course there are the fisheries, both in terms of wild fisheries and aquaculture," Maharey said.

New Zealand already has the world's fourth largest exclusive economic zone - at 4.8 million square kilometers (1.85 million square miles), a fact that defines the identity of New Zealanders.


The land area of New Zealand is shown in green, the existing exclusive economic zone is shown in blue, and the dashed red line defines the country's claim, to be defended between 2006 and 2009. (Map courtesy SeaFriends)
Land Information Minister Pete Hodgson said, "We think of ourselves as an island nation surrounded by a whole lot of ocean. But New Zealand can also be viewed as a small continent, about 95 percent of which is submerged. It is the vast size of our continental shelf that will cause our marine area to increase from 18 to 24 times the size of our dry land area once our jurisdiction over the seabed continental shelf is confirmed."

Hodgson heads that government agency that will coordinate the research effort, but Ocean Survey 20/20 is intended to be "a whole of government project," he said.

"We'll be covering an area from subtropical waters to sub-Antarctic islands, from shallow estuaries to seabed trenches as deep as 10 kilometers (six miles). And we'll also be covering the Ross Sea region and, as a secondary focus, the South Pacific islands for which New Zealand has special obligations," Hodgson said.


Land Information Minister Pete Hodgson, who also heads the ministries of transport and commerce, is a former New Zealand fisheries minister. (Photo courtesy Government of New Zealand)
In all those areas, Ocean Survey 20/20 researchers will explore the subsurface, seafloor, water column and atmosphere. The information collected will be relevant for minerals exploration, fisheries, maritime safety, oceanographic science including geological hazards, environmental protection, conservation, resource management, recreation and tourism, the ministers said.

"Some information already exists on New Zealand's seafloor and ocean resources," Hodgson said. "Some stunning maps already exist, and we have all stared at them hard."

"But existing information has been acquired at different times for a range of diverse scientific, resource management or business purposes. It is highly variable in its specification and quality, is fragmented and incomplete in its coverage, and is often inaccessible to those who need it," he said. "Ocean Survey 20/20 is being established because this information now mostly falls short of that required to meet New Zealand's oceans interests and responsibilities."

The ministers said the purpose of Ocean Survey 20/20 is to provide New Zealand with the knowledge of its ocean territory to:

The country's largest environmental conservation group, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society has been lobbying for better ocean protection for years.

Most recently, Forest and Bird's senior researcher Barry Weeber together with academics Dr. Nick Wilson, and Cath Wallace wrote a letter published in the January 28 issue of the "New Zealand Medical Journal" warning that destructive fishing methods are hampering the search for cancer cures.


Marlborough Sounds, made up of three sounds, is located in the northeast corner of New Zealand's South Island. (Photo courtesy Jefferswood)
The letter cited research showing that New Zealand sponges were yielding substances with anti-cancer properties. A Marlborough Sounds sponge has been discovered to have anti-leukemia properties that may be more effective than existing drugs, they wrote.

"The New Zealand government needs to show some leadership by working towards an international moratorium on bottom trawling in the high seas. It should also do more to expand expanding marine reserves in our waters and on the high seas," said Dr. Wilson of the Wellington School of Medicine and Heath Sciences

The ministers said government actions and the country's future wealth will depend on the information gathered by Ocean Survey 20/20.

Hodgson said, "This Ocean Survey 20/20 initiative is the start of a new era in learning about New Zealand's marine environment. With the dedication and expertise of our marine science community, robust co-ordination and strong government backing, I am confident that Ocean Survey 2020 will deliver the knowledge base to underpin the sustainable development of New Zealand's blue corner of the planet."

Find out more about the New Zealand Continental Shelf Project here.