Maui's dolphin sanctuary in oil drilling move - Greens

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 10:41 18/06/2014

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The Government has opened up for oil drilling more than 3000 square kilometres of a marine mammal sanctuary - home to the critically endangered Maui's dolphin, the Green Party says.

Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said documents obtained under the Official Information Act showed the Government included more than 3000sqkm of the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary in the competitive tender for petroleum exploration permits, known as Block Offer 2014.

The area, home to both the Hector's and Maui's dolphins, was declared a sanctuary in 2008 as part of the threat management plan to protect the species.

Last week, the International Whaling Commission published a report slating Nationals' management changes as "inadequate" to stop the Maui's dolphin becoming extinct.

"The International Whaling Commission is calling for even greater protections for Maui's dolphins - this National government is putting these beautiful dolphins at greater risk of extinction," Norman said.

Only 55 Maui's dolphins are thought to remain. They can only be found in New Zealand.

"The Government should stop putting the short-term interest of a few mining companies ahead of the thousands and thousands of New Zealanders who love and want to protect the endangered Maui's dolphin," Norman said.

His comments come as a decision is expected from the Environmental Protection Authority today on whether an iron-sand mining development will be allowed in the same Taranaki waters where the Maui's dolphins are found.

If given the green light the Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) operation would cover an area of 65.76sqkm off of Patea.

TTR proposes to extract up to 50 million tonnes of sediment a year and process it aboard a floating processing storage and offloading vessel.

About 5 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate would be exported.

But Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges today dismissed the Greens' concerns.

"There's negligible effect from petroleum [exploration] on Maui's dolphins," Bridges said, saying there had been no recorded deaths from the industry in 40 years.

About 95 per cent of threats to Maui's dolphins come from fishing, with set nets identified as the biggest threat.

"The Government's got a proud record on Maui's Dolphins," Bridges said.

"We've extended the set-net ban for fishing, and the marine mammal sanctuary area.

"But what the Greens are basically suggesting is that an area that's had petroleum development for over 40 years without incident should be shut down, and that's not correct and I don't think that's what anyone wants."

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Bridges said raising concerns about seismic testing was "probably the best point [the Greens] can make", but he claimed there should not be concerns about the process, with a mandatory code of conduct for testing requiring marine experts aboard all vessels. 

- Stuff

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