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Earlier this week I wrote about the start of New Zealand’s first-ever Shark Awareness Week. I should have also mentioned that it’s Conservation Week. Not that you’d know that when it comes to looking after life in our oceans.

Last Friday the government announced it was further delaying plans to increase protection measures for Maui’s dolphin, already on the cusp of extinction, and less than 24 hours later announced it was massively scaling back its proposal for a marine reserve in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

As Labour’s Conservation and Environment spokesperson Ruth Dyson said after the Ross Sea back-down it doesn’t appear that conservation is a government priority at all. There’s certainly been scant evidence to prove otherwise.

Let’s start with Maui’s dolphin. Eighteen months ago the government asked Kiwis what should be done to protect our native dolphin population which has plummeted to an estimated 55 adults. It received about 70,000 submissions, most of them calling for an immediate and extended ban on fishing with gill nets and trawl nets (which experts have identified as the main threat to Maui's survival), throughout the dolphins’ habitat.

Rather than act quickly to avert this crisis the government has sat on its hands - maybe hoping the problem would literally disappear, along with the dolphins themselves. Now, after months of procrastination it’s come up with a new plan which still falls well short of expert advice and public opinion and is again asking for feedback. Our feedback is simple: Not good enough.

If you made a submission last year you’ll have received an email on behalf of the Minister of Conservation, Dr Nick Smith, outlining the new proposal to extend the set net fishing ban off the Taranaki coast by 350 square kilometres. At first read that may sound good but it’s literally a drop in the ocean and still leaves a vast area of the marine mammal sanctuary open to gill nets and trawling which are the methods most deadly for Maui’s dolphins.

Rather than a plan to save the species it feels more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether or not you made a submission last year you can send one now from here which urges the government to act urgently on expert advice to save Maui’s dolphin.
It’s a similar deal for the Ross Sea. Last year our government stepped up to the plate and agreed on a joint proposal with the US to create a large-scale marine reserve in the Antarctic's Ross Sea. It wasn't as ambitious as we'd have liked, and would have left open a “research” fishing area that our own fleet would continue to exploit (does this remind you a bit of another country's “research” activities in the Southern Ocean?) but it was a good step towards the network of protected areas that countries have agreed to set up in Antarctic waters.

However, once the NZ/US proposal came up for discussion, the countries that regulate fishing in that region were not able to agree. Now it looks like New Zealand has rolled over without a fight and scaled the size of the proposed marine serve by almost 50 per cent. Another fail.

Which brings us back to sharks and conservation. While close to 100 states and countries have banned shark finning, it’s still legal here. That’s definitely not good enough for a country that promotes itself as being 100% pure. Shark finning is a senseless and wasteful practice. It’s time to put clean and green back into conservation and ban shark finning in our waters. Pledge your support here and we’ll let you know how you can make that happen.

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