19 June 2014, 10:51

New Zealand to hold oil, gas drills in habitat of rarest Maui dolphin

New Zealand to hold oil, gas drills in habitat of rarest Maui dolphin

The New Zealand authorities allowed petroleum exploration and gas drilling in 3,000 square kilometers of a marine mammal sanctuary off the West Coast of North Island - the habitat of Maui dolphins. The situation for highly endangered rarest dolphin is dire, and the government is making it worse, the Green Party said today.

The Green Party obtained documents under the Official Information Act which reveal that though the Department of Conservation informed the government that 3,000 square kilometers overlap into the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary but the government simply ignored the warning and gave permission for drilling.

The West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary was established in 2008 as a part of the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin Threat Management Plan.

"I think primarily once you go from exploration right through to production, you're not jeopardizing the wildlife," said Simon Bridges, the Minister of Energy and Resources.

The co-leader of the Green Party Russel Norman said that it seems that Bridges was happy "to kill some more" dolphins with oil exploration.

Just a week ago the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) scientific committee, representing more than 200 marine experts, has warned that the Maui's dolphin will become extinct unless even fishing is banned in its habitat, not to mention petroleum exploration and gas drills.

Researchers believe only around 50 Maui's dolphins are left in their sole range - shallow waters off the North Island's west coast - and they estimate three-to-four are accidentally killed as fishing by-catch every year.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith disputed the figure, saying that a ban on set-netting covering an area of 6,200 square kilometres (2,400 square miles) had been effective in minimising deaths.

While the IWC wants a total fishing ban in a larger area extending 20 nautical miles from the coast, Smith said there was no evidence the dolphins were found outside the area that was already protected.

The Maui's Dolphin is the rarest and the smallest dolphin in the world. It is estimated that just 55 adults species are now present in New Zealand's North Island and they are facing the threat of extinction due to fishing and disease.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has urged New Zealand government to launch measures to protect the dolphins.

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