Marine "hope spot" to protect endangered dolphins

By Regan Paranihi

New Zealand's coastal waters have been declared a marine "hope spot" in support of urgent protection measures to prevent the extinction of Māui and Hector's dolphins.

Hope spots are ecologically unique ocean areas which designated for protection under a global conservation campaign overseen by Mission Blue, a non-profit organisation.

Dr Barbara Maas from the German conservation group NABU International Conservation Foundation and New Zealand dolphin expert Prof. Elisabeth Slooten from the University of Otago pushed for the coastal water areas to be recognised.

"Although there are only around 50 Māui dolphins left, just 19 percent of their habitat is protected from fishing with gillnets and just five percent from trawling," says Maas.

She also says, “It is time for the government to bring protection measures for its only endemic dolphin into line with international scientific advice, or risk its credibility."

NABU International vice president Thomas Tennhardt says they have been campaigning for a ban on gillnets and trawlers and an end to oil and gas exploration and extraction in the dolphins' habitat for years.

“Hope spots (are) intended to help put in place long-overdue measures to protect these unique waters and facilitate the dolphins' recovery before it's too late," Tennhardt adds. 

Māui and Hector's dolphins have captured the hearts of many New Zealanders and Māui dolphins are now the rarest marine dolphins on Earth.

World-renowned oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle says, "We only have one chance to get it right with the Hector's and Māui dolphins - and that time is now."

Hope spots are intended to bring about a significant increase in ocean protection from less than 6% today to 30% by the year 2030.

Our Seas Our Future Charitable Trust and the NZ Whale & Dolphin Trust are alliance members supporting the NZ coastal hope spot.