THE NEW ZEALAND COAST, (November 26, 2018) – The sparkling ocean waves that hug New Zealand’s coasts hold spectacles of outstanding natural beauty that can be found both above and below the water. Ranging from subtropical in the north to sub-Antarctic in the south, these rich and complex waters are home to a vast collection of rare marine species, many of which call New Zealand their only home on Earth. Two dolphins in particular have drawn immense international attention for their unique grey, black and white color patterns and delightfully friendly demeanor – the Hector’s and Māui dolphins.
These magnificent dolphins are the only two cetacean species endemic to New Zealand, and scientists have watched their numbers decline sharply over the last several decades; the Hector’s dolphin has faced a decline of more than 70% the original population size reported in the 1970’s with 10,000, and the Māui dolphin has suffered a particularly devastating fate with just 50 individuals remaining. Their declining numbers are due to the use of gillnets and trawling in bulk and recreational fishing practices; the animals become ensnared and cannot escape. Gillnets are notorious for being indiscriminate in what they catch, with mass numbers of fish being discarded after facing damage upon getting caught, or simply being caught outside existing quotas.
“We only have one chance to get it right with the Hector’s and Māui dolphins – and that time is now,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue. “With the declaration of New Zealand’s Coastal Waters as a Mission Blue Hope Spot, perhaps we can all come together and do what it takes to keep these magnificent and rare dolphins away from the brink of extinction.”
New Zealand’s Coastal Waters have been declared a Hope Spot by international nonprofit Mission Blue in support of policy change that will ban the use of gillnets and trawling in the dolphins’ habitats, a move that in turn can benefit all of New Zealand’s marine life from falling victim to these unsustainable fishing practices that plague much of the world’s oceans. Such policy can allow for sensitive populations to recover and avoid the over-exploitation of fisheries, as well.
“To have just 50 of these wonderful creatures left is beyond even our worst estimates,” says Barbara Maas, Head of Endangered Species Conservation at NABU International and Hope Spot Champion explains. She adds, “Their extinction is really imminent now, within a few years. New Zealand is a civilized country, which markets itself as an unspoiled paradise. They must act before it is too late.”
The New Zealand Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries are meeting later this month and again in December to propose policy options for protection of these species, in which a public vote will open to comment on the official policy.
“We’re witnessing a similar phenomenon observed in the Gulf of California with the Vaquita porpoise”, describes Elisabeth Slooten, professor at the University of Otago and Hope Spot Champion. “There’s only 30 of them left in the wild; many scientists consider the species to be a ‘dead man walking’ with little to no sign of substantial recovery. There was much that could have been done to protect them, but ultimately the plan to protect them failed. We cannot sit by and watch the same thing happen to the Māui dolphin.”
The New Zealand Coastal Waters Hope Spot encompasses more than 17,000 km of coastline to a water depth of 100 meters. The country’s shores boast a hugely diverse landscape, with white sandy beaches on its east coast and ragged cliffs looming over black sand on the west. Marine life that call these waters home include sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins, fairy terns, Buller’s and Northern royal albatross, as well as a genetically distinct population of at least 718 pygmy blue whales that was only recently confirmed to live in New Zealand. Nearly half of the world’s cetacean species occur in New Zealand’s waters, as well as seahorses, Great White sharks, deepwater nurse sharks, rays, groupers and octopuses, just some of the creatures whose populations could greatly benefit from an official policy eradicating the use of gillnets and trawling.
Over the last 10 years, the NABU International Conservation Foundation have worked tirelessly to initiate international petitions reaching more than a quarter of a million supporters, coordinated international NGO sign-on letters supported by more than 100 NGOs, made representations at scientific forums, and have funded Hector’s and Māui dolphin research to strengthen these species’ case for protection. Having received widespread support within New Zealand and across the globe, Hope Spot Champions Dr. Barbara Maas and Dr. Elisabeth Slooten are optimistic that the dolphins’ habitat now recognized as a Hope Spot will bring much needed attention to the dolphins’ plight and desperate need for effective and immediate protection.
Dr. Barbara Maas adds, “We are grateful for the support for this species from across the world. New Zealand has a reputation as a leader in cetacean conservation, biodiversity protection and sustainability. Now it is time for the government to reaffirm its commitment to its only endemic dolphin or lose its credibility.”
The world has already witnessed the tragic decline of the Vaquita in the Gulf of California, and New Zealand is in a unique position to enact policies that will ensure the Māui dolphin will not have to meet the same fate. Time is of the essence to protect the Hector and Māui dolphins, and the international community is looking forward to supporting and witnessing the change that can allow healthy futures for these dolphins and the rest of New Zealand’s exquisite marine ecosystems.
About Mission Blue
Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on
these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About NABU International Conservation Foundation
Founded in 1899, NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) is one of the oldest and largest conservation groups in Germany. It encompasses more than 660,000 members and supporters that are dedicated to the conservation of threatened habitats, animals and plants, as well as climate protection and sustainable energy policies. NABU’s main objectives are the biodiversity and habitat conservation, the promotion of sustainable agricultural, forest management and water management practices, as well as raising public awareness about the importance of nature conservation.
The 40,000 volunteers who play an active role in the organization’s successful practical conservation work are something that is unique to NABU. They look after more than 110,000 hectares of protected areas in Germany. NABU also has volunteer groups that work on an international level to protect nature and alleviate poverty in Africa, Eurasia and the Caucasus. This work is supported by experts at NABU’s regional offices and its national headquarters in Berlin. In 2009, NABU founded the NABU International Conservation Foundation, which focusses on biodiversity conservation and climate protection in regions around the world where natural habitats are subject to growing human pressures. Visit their Facebook page here.