The Institute is pleased to announce the launch of Think Piece 22: Proposal for the Creation of an Oceans Institution. This think piece suggests that one key building block necessary to deliver robust ocean governance is missing – an oceans institution.

This new government institution would act as both a chronicler and a steward of ocean policy. It would become the central landing pad for all aspects of ocean policy. It is important to note that we do not envisage this new institution as a decision-making body or one that would undertake scientific research, nor as a lobbyist for special-interest groups. Instead it would focus on chronicling the narrative (sharing data, information and strategic knowledge about our oceans) and stewardship (collating and integrating information to inform all stakeholders and suggest effective and durable public policy making). This would create a space for collaboration and creativity, enabling policy to be developed with stakeholders over time and providing New Zealanders with durable public policy that delivers certainty and trust.

We would like to particularity thank the contributors who have come together in recent months to explore what such an institution might look like and how it might come into being. They include: Lionel Carter, Malcolm Clark, Robin Falconer, Pani Gleeson, Bronwen Golder, Julie Hall, Pat Helm, Tim Higham, Suze Keith, Shonagh Kenderdine, Ngahuia Leighton, Scott Macindoe, Ann McCrone, Tim Naish, Bernie Napp, James Palmer, Raewyn Peart, Stuart Prior, Justin Strang, James Tremlett, Ray Wood and Bob Zuur.

The think piece includes a list of FAQ’s (repeated below) and outlines a timeline of key events and legislation from 1990 to 2015. To download Think Piece 22 see our website. To learn more about the project, see the McGuinness Institute’s Project One Ocean page.

Frequently asked questions

1. What problem would the institution solve?
Public policy problems tend to arise due to a framework failure. Policy frameworks are made up of a combination of institutions, instruments and information. At present, we have many effective institutions that are operating in this space, but no one independent institution that brings research and policy together to explore common ground, record lessons learnt, describe existing conflicts and identify emerging issues in a considered manner. Government organisations such as DOC, MfE, MBIE, MPI, NIWA, NZDF, OPMCSA and PCE each look after certain aspects of ocean management, and would therefore benefit from having one central institution working to ensure a stable and informed oceans community.

There is no central landing pad for all ocean policy problems or indeed a place for opportunities and risks to be identified and acted upon. This means that trade-offs in ocean policy are being made around the Cabinet table under urgency instead of being thoroughly considered from early on in the process by a diverse range of stakeholders, researchers and policy analysts. An oceans institution would solve a policy gap for Cabinet by developing an integrated, informed, durable, trusted, collaborative, evidence-based approach to ocean management.

Unlike the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who looks at issues through an environmental lens, the oceans institution would look at all issues relating to the whole marine domain: commercial, cultural, environmental, zoological, security-related and social. That will be its major strength – creating a space for a comprehensive and robust discussion about the use and protection of marine space, which is one of
New Zealand’s major public assets.

2. What would the institution not do?
An oceans institution would not do any of the following:

  • undertake its own scientific research (although it would make suggestions about research needs and priorities);
  • accept any funds or services that would compromise its independence; or
  • operate as a decision-making body or policy maker – it would only make suggestions.

3. What would it be called?
There has been a lot of discussion about this. Strong contenders have been the Pacific and Southern Oceans Institute; Pacific and Southern Oceans Office; Oceans Governance Council; Office of Oceans Management, Oceans Policy Centre or the Oceans Stewardship Institute. Of course, it should also have a Māori name that recognises the importance of oceans for Māori.

4. How much would it cost and how would it be funded?
Given the wide array of organisations and the size and importance of New Zealand’s oceans, we consider that the size and cost of the oceans institution would be similar to that of OPMCSA (at a minimum). This is estimated to be $500,000 pa. The institution would be funded by the government.

5. Where would it be located?
Although there are many options, the most important is that the institution is a demonstrably independent intermediary of ocean management. For example, its physical location could be in a university.

6. What principles might guide the operation of an oceans institution?
(a) Collaborating with a diverse range of national stakeholders

  • Take a multidisciplinary approach, accessing expertise and knowledge from a range of fields.
  • Promote a cross-sector approach towards oceans management within government.
  • Be guided by the principle of kaitiakitanga.
  • Speak in language that is accessible for the public.
  • Create innovative and engaging mechanisms that inform New Zealanders and increase public interest in our oceans, for example by using virtual tools, and ensuring that these are easily accessible for the public.
  • Encourage a more holistic view of our marine environment.
  • Engage meaningfully with Māori, Pasifika and Asian communities.

(b) Encouraging activity from national and international investors and researchers

  • Establish a strong reputation locally, nationally and globally and encourage wide-ranging views.
  • Deliver high-quality, relevant work from the outset, as the credibility of the institution will be determined by its initial achievements.
  • Learn from how things are being done internationally and locally.
  • Establish more effective channels for communication and stronger relationships between public servants and oceans researchers.
  • Create more certainty in this policy area for all stakeholders.
  • Promote New Zealand universities and CRIs that are already contributing world-class research in various areas of oceans studies.
  • Build the mana of New Zealand and enhance our international reputation.

(c) Challenging the perceived dichotomy between the environment and the economy and providing for sustainable development

  • Promote sustainable economic development – development that can be maintained in the long term without compromising New Zealand’s marine environment.
  • Provide rigorous evidence-based policy advice to enable this sustainable economic development.

(d) Maintaining independence and promoting transparency

  • Be government-funded in order to prevent financial sources from dictating the institution’s direction.
  • Ensure a code of ethics is introduced as part of the institution’s establishment.
  • Make plans according to a realistic budget (the institution will not conduct scientific research, so there is no need for a significant investment).
  • Be open-minded and inclusive.
  • Avoid becoming a partisan lobby group.

7. Who would be involved?
The person leading this institution would have a good understanding of the role of science and policy, would be an independent steward, and would be both a good listener and an excellent communicator with a strong interest in ocean management. There would also need to be a secretariat, with at least two analysts, a communication and marketing manager and a website designer and developer.

8. What should be its first task?
The first task of the institution should be to outline a timeline of public policy developments, which would involve preparing a summary of the current policy landscape (issues, stakeholders and public resources), holding discussions to identify current and emerging issues and opportunities and creating a website to ensure that these processes, tools and outputs are available to the public.

Background to Think Piece 22
Following the publication of Report 10: One Ocean: Principles for the stewardship of a healthy and productive ocean, the Institute sought to further its work on New Zealand ocean management. The discussion and launch event in Auckland on 12 May 2015 set the direction for our work going forward. We have since held two round-table events to explore what a proposed oceans institution might look like. Think Piece 22: Proposal for the Creation of an Oceans Institution is the result of this consultative process. You can learn more about each event and the outputs here.