I work on the phone team at Greenpeace NZ. For most of this month I have been chatting with some of the almost 9,000 people who made submissions through the Greenpeace website to the Minister of Primary Industries, David Carter, calling for him to urgently protect Maui's dolphins . From what I have been hearing from them, it is not at all surprising to me to see that a recent poll by Avaaz showed that 95% of New Zealanders want action taken to protect Maui's – the world's smallest and most critically endangered dolphin.
Maui's dolphins are found only off the west coast of the North Island. It was not until 2002 that they were found to be a distinct subspecies and now it is estimated that there may only be around 55 of them left. It's fishing nets that are killing these rare mammals that are now the last of their kind. Dolphins are highly intelligent animals which are known to stay and tend to the sick and injured. It’s no stretch to think that such socially complex creatures could feel the loss of their community. Imagine being one of only 55 people left in the world? It makes for a pretty bleak scenario.
Only last month, a dolphin was found washed up dead on a beach near Pungarehu to the south of New Plymouth. This grim discovery follows the death of another dolphin back in January, found entangled in fishing net. In both cases, these dolphins have been outside the area where net bans are in place to protect the dolphins. Clearly, the area in which they are being protected is not big enough.
All talk and no action on this matter is another nail in the coffin for this unique species. So far the Government has gone as far as proposing interim protection measures until a full review gets underway. They're talking about a set net ban down the west coast of the North Island including the Taranaki coast and going out to four nautical miles, along with an extension of the marine mammal sanctuary. With Maui's dolphins so critically endangered we need a total ban on gillnets and trawling out to 100 metres depth through their whole habitat. It's not a big ask really. We're not talking about a vast expanse of ocean. It's totally doable.
I feel that as human beings we have altered our home planet on a massive scale driven by an ambition and hunger that is a bit like madness. We really owe it to the other species of this Earth that we have pushed to the brink of extinction with our insatiable consumption of her natural resources. If we could just direct even a fraction of that human drive towards action to protect and replenish these magnificent creatures then I am sure we can turn this appalling situation around and not see Maui's dolphin become extinct within our lifetimes.
The Minister is set to make a decision on the proposals by the end of the month. It would be a bold and welcome step to take all the above measures necessary and make sure they are properly enforced. It would be nice to be remembered for having helped to save a species.