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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

New Zealand is a Pacific island country composed of two main islands and many small islands. Due to its relative isolation from continental landmasses, New Zealand has a high level of endemic biodiversity with an estimated 80,000 species of native animals, plants and fungi. Endemic species examples include all the frogs and reptiles, more than 90% of the insects, approximately 80% of vascular plants and a quarter of bird species. While little is known about many of New Zealand’s marine species, up to 80% of the country’s indigenous species are thought to occur in the marine environment, around 44% of which are thought to be endemic. In the last 1000 years, 40 indigenous land and marine species have become extinct. The most recent inventory identified 799 threatened species and 2,741 at risk species.

New Zealand has 425,000 kilometres of rivers and streams, almost 4,000 lakes larger than 1 hectare in surface area and about 200 groundwater aquifers. By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both clean and in good supply. However, some aspects of water quality and quantity are deteriorating in areas dominated by intensive land use. Current data indicate that only around 10% of New Zealand’s original wetland systems remain, covering approximately 249,776 hectares.

Agriculture occupies about half of the total land area of New Zealand, mainly on the relatively fertile lowlands. Indeed, there is less native vegetation remaining in lowland areas. Broadleaved native hardwoods, mānuka and/or kānuka, and tall tussock grassland have experienced the greatest losses. New Zealand’s indigenous forests cover 7.2 million hectares which is about 24% of the land area. The country has one of the world’s largest protected area networks, with a third of its land area under legal protection and management for conservation purposes. However, this network is not fully representative. In particular, lowland and fertile forests are poorly represented, while montane forests feature prominently. New Zealand also has the fourth largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world and a network of 34 marine protected areas, covering 12,790 km2 within its coastal zone or just over 7% of New Zealand’s territorial sea.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The main drivers of change are:

• Competition including by invasive alien species,

• predation by introduced predators,

• herbivory by introduced herbivores,

• habitat modification and

• human activities

In addition, climate change contributes to pressure on New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity.

Since the 1970s, decreases in population sizes of species have been largely caused by the significant impacts of introduced invasive alien species. Since New Zealand’s native species evolved in the absence of any native land mammals, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of introduced predatory mammal species.

New Zealand’s marine environment is experiencing disturbance from human activities. As the population and technological capability grow, so do the pressures placed on the marine environment. These pressures include: increasing land development and increased discharges of land-based pollution, stormwater, nutrients and sediments to the sea - one of the most important land-based stressors on the marine environment; commercial fishing and trawling, both inshore and offshore; marine spills; and climate change, which is also expected to have a significant impact on the oceans and coasts.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy “Our Chance to Turn the Tide” (2000) establishes national goals to halt and reverse the decline of New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity, maintain and restore a full range of remaining natural habitats and ecosystems and ensure that viable populations of all native species are preserved. Four goals are established for conserving and sustainably managing New Zealand’s biodiversity based on i) community and individual action, responsibility and benefits; (ii) the Treaty of Waitangi, protecting iwi and hapū interests and building partnerships between Government and Māori; (iii) halting the decline of indigenous biodiversity; and (iv) the management of genetic resources of introduced species important for economic, biological and cultural reasons. The 20-year New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy was launched in 2000 and complemented by a funding commitment of $187 million over the first 5 years of implementing the key actions identified. In 2006, the New Zealand Government decided to retain the levels of funding over the first 5 years of the NBSAP on an ongoing basis and to baseline it within relevant government agency funding allocations, equating to $55 million per annum. Additional specific funding was also allocated, which includes $2 million over 4 years for work on identifying potential Marine Reserves; and $3.9 million for biodiversity and biosecurity research.

Activities to revise the NBSAP have commenced. This is to further mainstream biodiversity across government and society; reduce direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; provide ecosystem services to benefit all; and enhance implementation. The review will also incorporate:

• new information on status and trends of biodiversity;

• new issues, including the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and the importance of ecosystem services to prosperity;

• progress against existing outcomes, objectives, targets and actions to date; and

• key recommendations from the 2005 review of the strategy including incorporating a more effective monitoring framework.

The refreshed NBSAP is expected to be in place by the end of 2014.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The Government’s primary focus is on indigenous biodiversity, particularly endemic species, and for conservation work in situ rather than ex situ. Approximately a third of New Zealand’s land area is legally protected for conservation purposes. Between 2004 and 2012, the area of protected land (public and private) increased by 4.2%, bringing the total area protected for conservation purposes to over 8.5 million hectares. Areas outside the protected area network have some degree of protection through legislation protecting native species, and the inclusion of biodiversity considerations in New Zealand’s overarching resource management legislation (Resource Management Act, 1991). Marine reserves now cover just over 7% of New Zealand’s territorial sea. In addition, other mechanisms are in place to manage the impact of bottom fishing on 30% of New Zealand’s EEZ and a number of seamounts are closed to fishing.

In order to improve forest management practices, research under New Zealand’s Forests Act is currently underway to explore mechanisms for both conservation of protected biological diversity and sustainable use of non-protected biodiversity. Methods developed by the Department of Conservation (particularly relating to pest control) are made freely available to the public and other forest managers. In addition, the government-funded science system makes biodiversity information freely available as a public good.

As the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, Māori are significant owners of forested lands. The New Zealand Government has therefore established and funded the Ngā Whenua Rāhui Fund, which specifically aims to assist and support Māori with the conservation and management of biodiversity on their lands. In addition, New Zealand legislation provides for Māori and local community involvement in protected area management and regulatory processes.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in awareness by the public of the importance and value of New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity. This is particularly so in areas of primary production, ecosystem services and tourism. The intrinsic value of biodiversity is also gaining support and public acceptance. New Zealand has significant community group participation and volunteer involvement in conservation management via restoration programmes, species recovery programmes, and beach and reserve clean-up events, to name but a few. This has been coupled with a significant increase in the uptake of voluntary biodiversity protection mechanisms on privately-owned land. There is growing public awareness of climate change issues and, in particular, the role of environmental services and the importance of improving biodiversity resilience to facilitate natural adaptation to the impacts of climate-driven change.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Management actions are guided by a range of mechanisms, including sectoral strategies, species recovery and site management plans, and central and regional agency statements of intent/strategies. To facilitate more effective cross-agency interaction, the Chief Executive Officers of government agencies responsible for the management of New Zealand’s natural resources have established a committee to ensure that a strategic, integrated and aligned approach is taken to natural resources development and management across government agencies.

A range of legal mechanisms assists with biodiversity protection in New Zealand. The Resource Management Act provides the statuary framework for environmental and resource management. It guides the sustainable use of natural resources, including air, water, soil and biodiversity, through a range of planning tools, all the while ensuring full public consultation. Examples of specific planning mechanisms within this legal framework include the development of a National Coastal Policy Statement to guide management of these areas under the Resource Management Act; development of a National Policy Statement on Freshwater to assist Regional Councils in setting objectives and limits for water use, and requiring overall water quality to be maintained or improved for each region; and a draft National Policy Statement on Biodiversity. Other key legal mechanisms include the Conservation Act (1987) and the National Parks Act (1980). Planning instruments that have been developed to help inform the implementation of these Acts include a Conservation General Policy and General Policy Statement of National Parks.

Sector, industry and community farm planning initiatives are supported by a number of government- and privately-sourced funds to encourage the protection of biodiversity on private land.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

In 1997, the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment released its first State of the Environment Report, providing some datasets against which to measure trends. The most recent report was issued in 2007.

The Natural Heritage Management System is a monitoring tool which has been developed to enable the most cost-effective use of resources for conservation management. It measures indicators of the ecological integrity at a site, monitors trends over time, ranks sites in order of priority, and enables coherent reporting on the state of biodiversity conservation in New Zealand.

Work on an Environmental Reporting Bill that will mandate the provision of comprehensive environmental information commenced in 2013. The proposed new Environmental Reporting System will report on five environmental domains (air, climate and atmosphere, freshwater, marine and land, with biodiversity as a theme across all the domains) using 22 national environmental indicators. One environmental domain report will be released every six months with a comprehensive synthesis report covering all environmental domains released every three years.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme