Journal article

The Kermadecs conundrum: marine protected areas and democratic process

8 May 2017


Marine protected areas (MPAs) are on the increase. Their creation is heralded as a significant response to severe marine degradation caused by fishing, mining, pollution and climate change. However, MPAs are highly controversial as they can override other competing interests, and their creation has become fraught. Sometimes this is about historic or ongoing disenfranchisement; often it has to do with a lack of transparency in the development processes (Warne, 2016).

New Zealand’s recent move to establish a large marine protected area in the Kermadec region exemplifies these problems. The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill, if passed, will establish an MPA in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone around the Kermadec Islands (Ministry for the Environment, 2016a, p.3). It would be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully protected ocean areas (New Zealand Government, 2016a). However, it will also potentially extinguish property rights of the fishing industry and Mäori. Compensation to affected parties is expressly extinguished in the bill, and it was developed in the absence of consultation; both of these factors have resulted in strong opposition to the bill.

This article considers the conundrum of the bill. It first outlines the Kermadec region and its history, and the intended effect of the bill. It then examines the main issues raised by interested parties, considers the Treaty of Waitangi implications of the bill, and notes some particular observations not considered explicitly in the current dialogue. Overall, the sanctuary proposal demonstrates the importance of transparency in the establishment of MPAs and the need for standardised processes. It also demonstrates the inherent conflicts in plural societies with differences in world views. Ad hoc approaches to MPA establishment undermine their effectiveness and result in unnecessary conflict.


The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill provides an illuminating case study. It demonstrates the importance of transparency in government processes and the subsequent risks where this is absent. It also illustrates the inherent problems within pluralistic societies where we have opposing world views, such that one – often Maori’s world view – is subordinated to the other. If the government wishes to eliminate unnecessary conflict it could reassess the processes it follows, or simply follow the ones that are ostensibly already in place.

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