Each day during the month of April, the Institute will feature one of the 30 ‘perspectives’ from the One Ocean report. These short articles include a diverse range of views regarding oceans management in New Zealand. Enjoy!


Dr Vaughan Stagpoole, Head of the Marine Geoscience Department, GNS Science

Knowledge and use of the deep sea

The islands of New Zealand are not merely ramparts on the sea; they are the summits of a sunken continent of submarine plateaus, ridges and valleys. In 2008, with the endorsement of New Zealand’s extended continental shelf submission under the United Nations Law of the Sea, our rights over more than 5.8 million square kilometres of marine estate were confirmed. This vast marine area potentially makes New Zealand one of the most resource-rich countries on Earth.

Over the last 50 years the marine economy has been boosted by significant offshore petroleum discoveries; however, 90 percent of New Zealand’s deep-sea territory remains essentially unexplored. We still lack knowledge to address basic questions. For example:

  • What is the distribution and quantity of offshore hydrocarbons and minerals and how are they formed?
  • How do ecosystems respond to rapid environmental change?
  • How do geological processes affect Earth’s surface environment?
  • What are the underlying mechanisms of marine geologic hazards?
  • How can we improve risk assessment and prediction of catastrophic events?

Under the Law of the Sea, all sovereign rights to exploit natural resources are contingent on a duty to protect and preserve the marine environment. Balancing economic development and preservation of the environment requires a management regime that is underpinned by scientific observations and analysis. Research to address knowledge gaps will enable careful planning and coordination and ensure that wealth from our oceans can be sustainably grown to benefit all New Zealanders. There is still much to learn about the deep sea, and the task is both exciting and challenging.

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