The Greens are calling on the Government to take urgent action to protect critically endangered Maui's dolphins after a new study found there are only 55 adult animals remaining.
The Government yesterday called for public submissions on its plans to further protect the dolphins.
Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said action was needed after a population assessment commissioned by the Department of Conservation showed the number of adult dolphins had fallen in the past six years to just 55.
The main areas where Maui's dolphins were found were already protected by marine mammal sanctuaries and restrictions on fishing but new measures would extend a set net ban along the Taranaki coast south to Hawera and out to 4 nautical miles (6.5km).
The West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary would also be extended to Hawera and out to 12 nautical miles (20km), with restrictions on seismic surveys throughout the sanctuary.
The Government would also review its Hectors and Maui's Threat Management Plan this year, instead of next, and prioritise the Maui's dolphin component.
However, Greens oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes said the Government needed to do more than "talk".
"The Government should use the precautionary principle and immediately extend the set net ban along the Taranaki coast and enlarge the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
"Consultation with industry can then occur and tweaks to the protection measures can be made if necessary."
While there would be an impact on the fishing industry, the alternative was the extinction of the Maui dolphin species.
"The species will become extinct if more than one dolphin dies every five to seven years.
"Two Maui's dolphins have died in the last 5 months."
Primary Industries Minister David Carter said the Government had to balance several factors with the new measures including the impact on the local fishing community.
"For this reason, we will be consulting on the proposed measures before final decisions are made."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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