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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

marine dumping, Waikato River, mangrove swamps, industrial emissions, Southern Alps

New Zealand has a reputation as “clean and green” because of its relatively small population and unspoiled alpine scenery. However, the country faces real environmental issues. Industrial and agricultural discharges into waterways, notably the Waikato River, have led to water pollution in some areas. Air pollution from motor-vehicle and industrial emissions is a concern in the large cities, such as Auckland. In addition, widespread clearing of the original mixed-evergreen forests—both for timber and to create more agricultural land—has led to loss of wildlife habitat. The practice also led to severe soil erosion, a problem the government has attempted to solve through reforestation programs. However, targeted reforestation areas have been replanted with fast-growing nonindigenous species.

New Zealanders have pioneered conservation efforts, clearing offshore islands of rats and other predators to help native birds survive. New Zealanders also have a tradition of environmental activism. In the 1980s grass-roots opposition to the construction of new hydroelectric power stations led the government to suspend plans for future projects. New Zealand relies heavily on hydroelectric power, which is generally regarded as clean energy. Many New Zealanders opposed the construction of new dams, however, because they alter the natural flow of rivers and are environmentally disruptive. Controversy over the building of new dams was an important factor in the creation of a new tier of regional government in 1989 to help implement resource-management provisions designed to foster long-term sustainability. The antinuclear lobby is also a potent force in New Zealand. There are no nuclear reactors in the country, and nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered vessels are not allowed in the ports.

The government-managed national parks program was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1987. Nearly one-quarter of the country’s land area is protected in government-designated national parks and reserves, including some of the country’s wetlands, mangrove swamps, coastal areas, and native forest. New Zealand works with the World Heritage Fund to preserve the World Heritage Site of Te Wahipounamu. This internationally designated preservation area includes several locations in the Southern Alps, including some areas of indigenous forests and two alpine national parks, as well as the coastal fjords. In addition, some areas have been designated for the protection of wildlife, including the Royal Albatross Sanctuary on the southern coast of the South Island, the world’s largest mainland breeding ground for the royal albatross.

New Zealand is actively engaged in helping to preserve the fragile marine habitats and ecosystems of the South Pacific Ocean. The country has ratified a number of international environmental agreements on topics such as biodiversity, marine dumping, and whaling.

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