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Science academy warns of knowledge gap ahead of New Zealand marine development

WELLINGTON, May 15 — New Zealand needs to do more research on its huge maritime area before exploiting marine resources with mining, power generation and other developments, the country's national scientific academy warned Tuesday.

The Royal Society of New Zealand said mining, bio-discovery and power generation all provided opportunities to generate extensive wealth for New Zealand, but the country lacked information about the vulnerability or resilience of its ocean ecosystems.

In its "Future Marine Resource Use" paper published Tuesday, the Royal Society said the country's fisheries were an example of how natural resources could be managed for both short-term and long-term benefit.

Unrestricted fishing led to a crisis in the ocean ecosystems and the fishing industry that depended upon those ecosystems, which was only corrected with the Quota Management System introduced in 1986, said a statement from the Royal Society.

The quota system saved both the fish populations and the fishing industry by creating regulations and incentives for responsible use.

"The same strong management will be needed for other marine resources," Dr Jez Weston, senior policy analyst at the Royal Society of New Zealand, said in the statement.

"That management will need to be underpinned by sound science so that policy-makers can be informed about the cumulative impacts of use, how vulnerable ecosystems are and to understand how people value and use marine ecosystems."

New Zealand was responsible for a vast expanse of ocean, from the tropics to Antarctica, where fisheries and oil and gas extraction already generated substantial wealth.

Energy generation, mining, undersea gas hydrates and the unique biodiversity are all potential sources of similar wealth, said Weston.

Tidal flows in the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South islands and the country's entire west coast and was exposed to powerful waves from the storm-swept Southern Ocean, created prime sites for wave power.

Over the next two decades, marine power was expected to grow rapidly as it became cost competitive in the same way that wind power had over the past two decades.

New Zealand's seabed held a wide variety of minerals, including ironsands, phosphates and a wide range of metals, but their use was hampered by the lack of information about how vulnerable or resilient the surrounding ecosystems were.

"Also needing consideration is the potential acceptable impact of mining, when considering other human impacts on those ecosystems such as overfishing, sediment and nutrient pollution from on-land activities, and warming and acidification from climate change," said Weston.

The paper has come as the government presses ahead with plans to open up New Zealand waters to greater oil and gas exploration. (PNA/Xinhua)

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