Posted on 29 October 2020

Aotearoa New Zealand’s complex marine laws

We’ve produced a poster of key pieces of legislation in our marine realm, and where they apply. The aim is to communicate the complex and fragmented legal framework for marine management.

Aotearoa New Zealand may be a small country, but we’re a great one too. Since 1994, we have been in charge of the fourth largest marine estate in the world.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS) was introduced that year. This gave individual nations rights and responsibilities to govern the sea out to 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from their shoreline. This marine area surrounding the land is called an Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ

Our EEZ is massive in comparison to our land mass. In fact, it is about 20 times larger! We use our EEZ for fishing, aquaculture, tourism, oil and gas, minerals, shipping, social enterprise, recreation and more.

Marine legislation

At least 20 pieces of legislation apply to our marine environment and our activities in it. Legislation is a law or a set of laws made by the New Zealand Parliament. The graphic below shows some of the key pieces of legislation in our marine realm, for protection and/or resource management, and where they apply in the marine environment.

Click image to enlarge

This graphic does not contain a complete list of all the national and international legislation in our marine space. Also, it does not show the many rules and regulations in the legislation, nor is it to scale.

As such, the poster is a useful conversation starter but must not be taken as legal advice. The spatial ranges in the graphic are guided by NIWA's chart of New Zealand's Marine Realm.

Our marine legislation was developed for a range of different purposes. For example, the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1978 protects marine mammals from human activities. The Fisheries Act 1996 enables the sustainable use of fisheries resources. The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 gives us public access to the beach for things like recreational fishing and swimming.

Some legislation only applies to certain parts of the country, such as the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000 (not pictured in the graphic). As the name suggests, this only applies to the big blue backyard of Auckland and Waikato.

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