Survey shows New Zealanders think marine environment health is improving - it's declining

8:08 pm on 15 December 2022
Plastic polluting beach

Plastics are now ubiquitous in New Zealand environments, including our beaches and sea. Photo: Olga Pantos

Some New Zealanders are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to the true state of the marine environment, a new survey suggests.

The 10th New Zealand Environmental Perceptions Survey found New Zealanders as a group rated the current state of the environment overall as "adequate to good".

Read the full report (and previous years' reports): here.

However, when it came to beaches and coastal waters, the researchers found there was "some disconnect" between perception and reality.

More people believed the state of marine areas had remained the same or improved, when in fact their condition had worsened in the last ten years due to human activity.

For the first time, respondents identified climate change as the most critical environmental issue facing New Zealand.

This is a change from all previous surveys, when fresh water was considered the most important issue.

A sign at Ōwhiro Bay warns people not to take shellfish or swim after rain. Karori residents want similar signs to warn people to stay out of the polluted stream, but Wellington Water has refused to erect any.

A sign at Ōwhiro Bay in Wellington earlier this year warned people not to take shellfish or swim after rain. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Thomas

Manaaki Whenua co-lead researcher Pamela Booth said people expressed a desire to take "an active role" in improving their environment, although overall participation rates for environmental activities actually dropped.

Re-cycling household waste was the most popular pro-environmental activity in 2022.

The findings highlighted the concern New Zealanders had for the pressure sewage and storm water have on coastal water and beaches, and how weeds and pests are the biggest threat to protected natural areas, wetlands, native bush and terrestrial animals.

While the perceived state of air, natural environments in towns and cities, rivers and lakes, wetlands, and native bush and forests improved significantly since 2010, how people thought the environment was being managed stayed the same.

At least half of respondents across all regions believed farmers were doing at least an adequate job looking after the environment.

The 2022 survey was carried out by Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research in partnership with the original researchers.

The survey was conducted by researchers from Lincoln University biennially from 2000 to 2010 and then triennially from 2010 to 2019.

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