New tool for marine conservation and management

New tool for marine conservation and management

New Zealand’s first-ever Marine Environment Classification (MEC) is complete.

The MEC divides New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) into areas with similar environmental and biological character. We used eight environmental variables to define the classification. They all relate to the physical characteristics of the ocean, including depth, tidal currents, and aspects of sea surface temperature. Biological features of an area (e.g., what creatures live there) tend to be closely aligned with the environment. We used large biological datasets to fine-tune the classification system to ensure the relationship between the environment and biology was the best possible.

This map shows the MEC at the maximum number of classes (300). Deeper areas with lower tidal currents and lower wave-induced orbital velocities are bluer. Areas with higher sea surface temperatures in winter and higher annual mean surface solar radiation are redder. Areas that are associated with steeper seabed slope and high sea surface temperature gradient are greener.

NIWA has developed the MEC at two levels: a broad scale classification of the entire EEZ, and a more detailed classification for the Hauraki Gulf. Further detailed classifications of other inshore areas may follow.

One of the potential uses of the MEC is the identification of candidate areas for marine protected area status.

The MEC is funded by the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Fisheries, and Department of Conservation.

Research subject: Coasts