Critically Endangered New Zealand Dolphins – We Have To Act Now
July 9, 2019
By Shannon Rake
For the sake of the nearly extinct Hector’s and Māui dolphins, please urge the New Zealand government to ban all gillnets and trawl nets up to the 100 meter depth contour as recommended by the IUCN and the scientific community.
The Hector’s and Māui Dolphins Threat Management Plan laid out by the Government of New Zealand DOES NOT provide for adequate or effective protections for these highly vulnerable species. Please join us in calling to ban all gillnets and trawl nets up to the 100 meter depth contour.
If you have 20 seconds right now, PLEASE use this pre-filled form and make your public comment here. This comment not only calls for the ban on all gillnets and trawl nets up to the 100 meter depth contour, but also calls for several other commonsense actions that would go far to help save these species from extinction. Once again, you can do this by clicking here. Every comment counts.
New Zealand is a country with less than 5 million people, it is less populated than the greater San Francisco Bay Area and yet it has amazing biodiversity and species that can be found nowhere else in the world. Most non-New Zealanders know of the Kiwi, a flightless bird native only to New Zealand, but many may not have heard of the Māui and Hector’s dolphins. Both can only be found in the coastal waters of New Zealand, a Mission Blue Hope Spot. The Māui dolphin (the north island subspecies) is critically endangered with around 50 individuals left and holds the unwanted position of being one of the most endangered dolphins on the planet. The Hector’s dolphin (the south island subspecies) is endangered with an estimate of about 10,000 individuals, however some sub-populations have less than 200 individuals.
The dolphins’ numbers have declined drastically over the last four decades due to fisheries bycatch. The dolphins become trapped in gillnets and trawl nets and ultimately drown. For the last 15 years, Hope Spot Champions Professor Liz Slooten and Dr. Barbara Maas have been working to bring together NGOs across the globe to fight for the protection of the dolphins by banning gillnets and trawl nets in the dolphins’ habitat. In 2012 at the World Conservation Congress, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued recommendation 142 urging the New Zealand government to ban gillnet and trawl net use from the shoreline to the 100 meter depth contour in all areas where the Hector’s and Māui dolphins are found. As of today, over seven years after the IUCN issued this recommendation, the New Zealand government has neither accepted nor implemented it.
Professor Liz Slooten has dedicated 30 years studying the Māui and Hector’s dolphins and is the foremost expert on the dolphins. She says, “Reducing the amount of gillnet and trawl fishing in dolphin habitat is known to work. In two areas where long-term research has been carried out, by Otago University and Auckland University, the population was declining rapidly before partial protection and is now stable or slowly declining. Unfortunately, the last few attempts at protecting these dolphins created protected areas that were far too small, followed by research showing that protection is still not effective. This time it is critical that we get it right. The Māui dolphin and several of the smallest Hector’s dolphin populations simply won’t make it one more time around this protection and research merry go ‘round.”
The Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, view the Māui dolphin as a “taonga” (treasure) and have been challenging the government’s handling of Māui conservation. Davis Apiti of Ngati Te Wehi says, “In the past 15 years, Ngati Te Wehi has been to protect this special taonga and it feels like it has been falling on deaf ears. There seems to be lots of stakeholder meetings, consultation hui and still the dolphins are declining. It has been interesting to see that there is more political voice from outside New Zealand, which is damaging our environmental reputation to the rest of the world. We have always asked for a sanctuary and a ban of trawling and gillnetting but it seems like MPI has more of a say in our own area than we do as tangata whenua. For these reasons, that is why we have put in a treaty claim and have pushed for an urgent hearing. We have lost faith in the government to protect this endemic taonga.” In May of 2016 the New Zealand High Court rejected a challenge over the government’s handling of Māui dolphin conservation by Ngati Te Wehi and Ngati Tahinga, two Maori communities.
New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Department of Conservation (DOC) have just released a risk analysis for the Māui and Hector’s dolphins and public discussion document, giving everyone a chance to choose among options for better dolphin protection. The MPI analysis claims that the biggest contributor to the dolphin’s deaths is disease. This analysis has been refuted by the scientific community at large who stand staunchly behind research that has unequivocally shown that the primary cause of death is due to fisheries bycatch. The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has also reviewed the dolphins’ plight, expressing continued grave concerns about the Māui dolphin, which is teetering on the cusp of extinction. Amazingly, this is also the eighth year in a row that the IWC Scientific Committee has urged the New Zealand government to remove all gillnets and trawling from the dolphin’s habitat. Dr. Barbara Maas explains, “We only have a short window to fix this. Miss it and Māui and Hector’s dolphins will vanish forever. This is a straightforward and easily resolvable conservation problem. Threatened dolphins don’t mix with gillnets and trawl nets. You simply can’t have both in the same area. While the fishermen can move, the dolphins cannot. There is only one option, if we want to save Māui and Hector’s dolphins, and it is not even represented in the government’s Draft Threat Management Plan. Without strong global public support, New Zealand’s forgotten dolphins simply won’t make it.”
With overwhelming public support from both New Zealand citizens and the global community, as well as increasingly strong urging from the scientific community, the time to act to protect these dolphins is now. “We only have once chance to get it right with the Hector’s and Māui dolphins,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “Perhaps we can all come together and do what it takes to keep these magnificent and rare dolphins away from the brink of extinction.”
Please urge the New Zealand government to ban all gillnets and trawl nets up to the 100 meter depth contour as recommended by the IUCN and the scientific community. Please make your public comment here.