By Sally Paterson
Chief Executive, Live Ocean Foundation
This year’s theme speaks to both our emotional connection to the sea as well as the physical interface between land, ocean and climate.
Live Ocean Foundation is a marine conservation charity founded by world champion sailor (and Bay of Plenty local) Peter Burling and his sailing partner Blair Tuke out of their deep concern for the ocean and their belief that as a nation we can be so much better.
When we think about what is special about our country, and particularly about the Bay of Plenty, the ocean springs to mind. From the beaches and surf to the harbours, estuaries, islands and reefs, the ocean is a large part of what defines the region and is a huge attraction for visitors.
From the fur seals to the schooling fish, sharks and oceanic manta as well as seabirds, the region’s ocean is home to huge amount of life – but their numbers today are a far cry from the abundance that gave the region its name.
We value the ocean – it’s an intrinsic part of our culture and our enjoyment. My challenge here is for New Zealanders to move our collective understanding to understand the role a healthy ocean plays in keeping the planet safe.
The ocean seems so vast that for centuries we thought it was too big to fail. Now we know otherwise, and with urgency and ambition we must consider the role a healthy ocean plays as part of the solution to the grave environmental challenges we face.
The ocean supplies more than half the oxygen we breathe, has absorbed over 90% of the extra heat we’ve produced and around 25% of the carbon. It has quite literally been taking the heat for us. So how do we reframe our relationship with the ocean?
We need to value not just what we can take from it – both in terms of enjoyment and food – but learn to value biodiversity in the ocean and understand the critical importance of the role it plays. We need to protect more. On land we protect about 30% in native forests and we understand the benefits to our wildlife, to our enjoyment and tourism as well as the role trees play in carbon sequestration.
Yet in New Zealand we currently protect less than 1% of our ocean, with the Bay of Plenty barely represented in this tiny number despite its incredible natural beauty and ecological significance. It simply isn’t good enough.
The goals of ocean protection are to preserve and restore our marine environment’s unique and special places and ecosystems. Now is the time to take action to ensure that the Bay of Plenty remains exactly that – the ‘bay of plenty’ – for generations to come.