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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in New Zealand

While New Zealand’s constitution does incorporate the rights of nature in its constitution, the country has taken a more enforceable and direct approach by granting legal personhood to three environmental features:

  • (1) Te Urewera National Park
  • (2) the Whanganui River
  • (3) Mt. Taranaki
  • Combining traditional indigenous knowledge of the Maori people with the modern legal system, New Zealand has granted a mountain, river, and national park legal personhood status.

    Featured Legislation

    1974: The Marine Pollution Act was introduced to make better provisions for preventing and dealing with marine pollution and to give effect to certain international conventions relating thereto. It is divided into the following Parts: Prevention of pollution; Dumping and incineration of wastes; Marine casualties; Oil pollution levies; Civil liability; and Additional compensation and indemnification.

    1978: The Marine Mammals Protection Act was approved, making provisions for the protection and conservation of marine mammals and placing restrictions on the taking of marine mammals. It restricts the right to take marine mammals, whether alive or dead, from their natural habitat without first obtaining a permit from the Minister of Conservation.

    1983: The Fisheries Act was enacted. The legislation oversees conservation of fisheries and fishery resources within New Zealand and New Zealand fisheries waters, recognizing Maori fishing rights secured by the Treaty of Waitangi.

    1991: The Resource Management Act was passed. The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. In this Act, sustainable management means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being and for their health and safety. The legislation also sustains the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations, and safeguards the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems.

    1994: The Maritime Transportation Act was adopted, promoting safety in maritime transport and the protection of the marine environment in relation to New Zealand’s preparedness to respond to marine oil pollution spills.

    1994: The Whitebait Fishing Regulations were ratified, providing rules relative to fishing for whitebait in New Zealand. These Regulations shall apply to all waters and places throughout New Zealand but not to waters and places to which the Whitebait Fishing (West Coast) Regulations 1994 apply.

    1998: The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (New Organisms Forms and Information Requirements) Regulations were created, prescribing information to be provided with any application for approval to import new organisms.

    2000: The Marine Safety Charges Regulations were drafted, prescribing the marine safety charges payable for ships that enter or use any New Zealand port, or operate in New Zealand waters.

    2015: The Marine Mammals Protection Act was amended, providing for the establishment of marine mammal sanctuaries, within which activities known to harm particular marine mammal species can be restricted.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • ​​New Zealand’s rights of nature movement has accomplished a milestone: the country has officially given legal personhood status to various environmental and geographic features, incorporating the rights of nature in local and national law. Traditional Maori values and beliefs have spearheaded this movement, granting genealogical histories (called whakapapa in Maori) that describe the origin of rivers, mountains, trees, and animals. In 2014, the New Zealand Parliament officially adopted Maori customs – specifically, the Tūhoe people’s spiritual connection to Te Urewera National Park. According to the  Te Urewera Act of 2014, the park is an “ancient and enduring fortress of nature, alive with history; its scenery is abundant with mystery, adventure, and remote beauty.” The Act goes on to explain that both the Tūhoe and the Crown agree that Te Urewera has “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person,” and that the main goal of the Act is to preserve Te Urewera in “its natural state.” Not long thereafter, the New Zealand Parliament granted legal standing to the Whanganui River and its tributaries, lakes, and streams, signaling a significant step in the growing earth rights movement. Currently, the government is exploring ways in which it can integrate traditional Maori ecological knowledge and attitudes into conservation efforts and sustainable development. The Maori people of New Zealand have faced nearly two hundred years of oppression and the recent movement to redress some of the injustices paves the way for reconciliation, honoring traditional knowledge systems that have revolved around indigenous epistemologies and world views.

    References and Further Reading


    Ministry for the Environment: