Early development of an integrated, ecosystem-based approach to oceans policy in New Zealand resulted from concern that existing legislation and regulation dealing with the ocean jurisdiction did not provide an integrated or holistic approach. A ‘window of opportunity’ opened in 1999. Following the New Zealand election of 27 November 1999, when a new Labour government took office, the ‘first wave’ of early support for action on management of New Zealand’s marine jurisdiction occurred when the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released the report, Setting Course for a Sustainable Future: The Management of New Zealand’Marine Environment, in December 1999.


Despite the early interest in the development of oceans policy in the late 1990s, the process stalled in 2003, only to be reignited to some degree in 2005. It is assumed that the primary reason for the termination of the development of a new oceans policy framework was the debate over Māori rights to coastal and marine resources in 2003. Government took the view that issues regarding ownership of the foreshore and seabed between Māori and the Crown needed to be resolved before further development of new oceans policy. 


To some degree this issue has been resolved by the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011, which declares the foreshore and seabed area a commons incapable of ownership, protects public use rights (access, recreation, navigation and fishing), and re-establishes the right of Māori to claim customary marine use rights and title. The Marine and Coastal Area Act does not provide for ownership, Māori or otherwise, but provides for non-ownership title and significant input into RMA consent processes within the titled area, which is not the same as the common idea of control through ownership.


A general summary of marine-related bills, policies, and events that will likely influence future policy development is described below.


  • Over the last ten years governments have granted licences and permits to explore offshore oil and mineral resources. These include: permits for mining petroleum; a mining licence for phosphate on the Chatham Rise; and a mining licence for iron sands off Taranaki.


  • In August 2007 the first step towards a legislative component to the oceans policy was explored through the release of the discussion paper Improving Regulation of Environmental Effects in New Zealand’s EEZ.


  • Instead of an ‘umbrella act’, the discussion paper recommended two options: the establishment of legislative mechanisms focused on filling key gaps in EEZ environmental regulation and promoting a consistent approach across statutes, including the assessment of cumulative effects; or the development an entirely new regime for managing all activities in the EEZ.


  • The Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 sets out several amendments which make up the first phase of the review of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). In the view of the Minister for the Environment, this first phase improves the resource consent process by, among other things, restricting opportunities for frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections, and having projects of national significance considered at a national level. Work has begun on the more complex second phase of review, which aims to have central government provide better direction for regional councils and to improve alignment of the RMA with existing legislation. The second phase also aims to improve the management of infrastructure and water (including both quality and allocation).


  • The passing of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act (MCCA) on 24 March 2011 established a new regime for recognition of customary rights and title over the foreshore and seabed.


  • The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act was introduced in September 2012. The Environmental Effects Act fills the gaps in the regulation of ‘environmental effects’ for the country’s EEZ and extended continental shelf (ECS). The Act also provides for the development of natural resources in the EEZ and ECS, while identifying and assessing adverse effects of activities. It sets out an obligation for adverse environmental effects to be avoided, remedied, or mitigated. Environmental assessments are developed under the new Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which has jurisdiction over permitting uses within the marine area beyond 12nm. This Act puts in place an effective consenting process for marine mineral projects. It establishes a framework for regulations that will classify activities as permitted, discretionary or prohibited; sets out decision-making criteria that recognise biological values; and requires decision makers to take a precautionary approach when information is limited. Refer to the EPA website.


Information published by the EPA on proposals of National significance is covered in several Guides.


There are many publications on the Ministry for the Environment website website that help guide users of the marine environment.



Marine life environmental indicators are available from Statistics New Zealand.

There are also proposals made by members of non-governmental organizations that encourage a new approach to marine governance. These proposals include calls for the creation of a special Royal Commission on Oceans; the development of pilot projects for integrated marine spatial planning (e.g., for the Hauraki Gulf); and the establishment a separate overarching Ministry for Oceans that could include a new ocean council and ocean strategy for the EEZ.

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