As we move into the summer months, our interaction with the sea and coasts will become an even more central part of our lives so it is worthwhile to reflect on the importance of our seas as part of our nation and culture according to an AUT professor.
Professor of marine tourism Mark Orams says in this 21st century global village of connectedness and mobility it is easy to forget that our home, Aotearoa/New Zealand, is an isolated archipelago a group of islands surrounded by the greatest ocean on our planet.
“Our maritime setting shapes and defines all of us. Our ancestors, Māori and Pakeha, arrived here via great ocean voyages. Our climate, our natural environment, our economy and our lifestyles are influenced by the sea and the isolation and protection it provides.”
He says as New Zealanders we are responsible for managing the fifth largest marine estate in the world, some 4.4 million square kilometres, an area 15 times larger than our land mass.
“Economically, our seas are important. Almost all our trade occurs via shipping. Our commercial fishing and aquaculture assets are valued at nearly $4 billion, marine mineral deposits may be worth more than $lOb and hydrocarbon resources are estimated to be worth $450 million each year…It is clear that New Zealand’s marine environment has significant economic value and the government and private sector are looking to realise that value.”
But what he says is seldom explicitly recognised when considering New Zealand’s marine resources, is the huge use of those resources for recreation. He says it is no accident that more than 80 per cent of our population lives within 50km of the sea.
A study by the Ministry of Tourism revealed that New Zealand’s most popular nature based tourism attraction for both international visitors and Kiwis travelling within their own country was beaches.
In 2006, 1.3 million visitors were involved in beach-based activities almost double the next-most-popular nature-based activity, scenic boat cruises. For domestic tourists, 2.9 million were involved in beach based activities.
“This is important because our growing use of the sea for recreation and tourism is significant. We are getting on it, in it and under it in more ways, and in greater numbers, than ever before, and our use of the sea for recreation is having massive impacts and these impacts are positive and negative and frequently both.”
So, Professor Orams says careful management of marine recreation is an important priority to ensure that these activities are appropriate and available for all.
“The sea matters to us. It is part of who we are. When decisions are being made about the use of marine resources for economic development, those who ignore the value of those resources for our recreation, leisure and Kiwi lifestyle do so at their peril.”