Among these thousands of animal species are the world’s rarest sea lion, penguin, dolphin, whale, and albatross. Additionally, approximately half of the world’s whales and dolphins visit or live in these habitats off of New Zealand, as well more than one-third of world’s seabird species! Some of these animals are native, some non-native, and some are endemic, meaning you can’t find them anywhere else in the world. Without these habitats and the resources they provide, where would these animals go?
In addition to several underwater habitats, the coastal and beach areas where the water meets the shoreline create the perfect habitat combination for water and land dwelling animals. Beach sand, rocks, seaside vegetation, and cliffs are used by animals to nest, rest, and care for young. This includes the highest number of seabird species that do not breed anywhere else but Aotearoa – 38 species to be exact!
Have a look below at the amazing taonga that make ocean, coastal, and beach habitats their home, what challenges they face, and how you can help!
At varying depths of the vast ocean, you can find several species of fish, shellfish, turtles, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales swimming, feeding, and socialising.
Additionally, sea birds, seals, sea lions, and penguins’ all need land for resting, nesting, and breeding. Therefore, the coast and beach are also an important part of their habitats.
Below are some of the marvellous marine animals that live year round, or are seasonal visitors to the oceans, coasts and beaches of NZ:
The flora found in the ocean, by the sea, on the beach, and near the coast is extremely diverse. What you can find in each area depends on the conditions, as not all plants can grow under water for example, or in sand. Have a look below at some of the species you can find in these habitats:
Sadly, many of these species are facing many challenges that are leaving them threatened/endangered. It’s extremely important to protect the areas where these animals live. Below are some of the difficulties they face:
Rubbish, waste, trash, litter, and garbage – all of these words describe anything that is thrown away that is no longer wanted and/or can no longer be used.
Unfortunately, a big part of this waste is plastic. Plastic of all shapes and sizes that ends up in our ocean, coastal, and beach habitats, polluting the water, and harming precious wildlife. In fact, the ocean is filled with about eight million tonnes of plastic each year. To give you an idea of just how much that is – a single elephant weights 2-7 tonnes. That’s a huge amount of plastic, creating a huge problem!
Animals often ingest (eat) different forms of plastic, mistaking it for food. For example, turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, which is one of their main food sources. This can sadly lead to impaction of the gut (internal blockage) and/or starvation. Another example is when our vulnerable seabirds eat small pieces of plastic, and then feed it to their chicks. They think they’re giving them appropriate food, but sadly, it is fatal.
Animals also frequently become seriously injured by plastic – whales, seals and fish, to name a few, can be cut by sharp items which can cause serious pain and infection. Wildlife can become entangled in plastic items which can cause life-threatening injuries and/or drowning as well.
Urban and agricultural run-off from chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, detergents, oil, fuel, and sewage being dumped into the ocean leads to marine pollution.
This pollution can smother coral reefs, vegetation, cause increase algal blooms that starve the water of oxygen, creating inhabitable areas, and it often poisons, smothers, and kills wildlife.
With more and more people in the world, light and noise pollution becomes an issue for marine life as well by changing their natural behaviours and causing stress.
Climate change and ocean acidification
Climate change affects habitats, wildlife, and people.
Climate change has caused ocean temperatures to rise. This has been a major threat to ocean habitats and the diverse wildlife that lives there. Warmer waters have caused a change in the growth of plants and ocean currents, and therefore, the natural behaviour of several species of animals as well.
In addition to becoming warmer, the water levels of the oceans have risen due to melting ice and water expansion from the heat, which can lead to coastal erosion and flooding.
Not only that, but oceans are also becoming more acidic. About one third of human-emitted carbon dioxide (C02) is absorbed by our oceans globally. This C02 absorption causes a chemical reaction, creating carbonic acid in the water.
This is called ocean acidification and it is extremely harmful to marine animals and habitats. Water becoming more acidic is a threat to all marine life for growth and shelter, but animals such as coral, clams, and oysters are especially at risk. This is because ocean acidification affects calcium carbonate, a chemical these animals need to make their shells.
When fishing is not carried out responsibly, there are several issues for habitats, wildlife, and humans.
Animals can also swallow and become entangled in discarded fishing gear like hooks, ropes and nets. These incidents often cause serious injury, or even death from drowning or starvation. Wildlife can also become fatally injured if they’re hit by fishing or recreational boats and their propellers.
Not only that, but physical damage from certain fishing methods, such as seabed trawling and dredging for fish and shellfish can cause widespread damage to the sea floor and the creatures living there. Dredging and trawling can also capture other species that are not wanted and therefore discarded.
Overfishing is a big problem in that it causes the populations of so many fish species to drop. Overfishing prevents these fish from flourishing, takes away other animals’ food sources, destroys habitats, and depletes the source for human food.
Bycatch also endangers many species – including those that are already endangered. Bycatch is when fishing nets catch other unintended marine life, like dolphin and turtles, as well as seabirds.
Oil and gas production & seismic testing
Seismic testing is a process used to find offshore oil and gas reserves. This process involves the use of powerful air-guns to blast the ocean floors every 10 seconds. This process seriously affects ocean habitats as it destroys the ocean floor and anything that grows there and sadly causes marine wildlife distress, leaves them with severe injuries, or kills them.
The increasing demand for minerals and metals has led to seabed mining in search of these resources. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of wildlife.
Mining causes physical disruptions and destruction to ocean habitats. This process often injures and kills marine wildlife, distresses animals with the sediments clouds, vibrations, and noise it creates, and pollutes the water with toxic chemicals.
Animals with slow growth rates are particularly vulnerable, as they are slower to repopulate. This recovery could take decades, centuries, or sometimes, they do not recover.
The impact of human recreational beach activities e.g. Jet boating and jet skiing, 4WD on beaches, walking over sand dunes and nesting sites, off lead dogs - can all damage plants and shore bird nests.
Shore birds are easily stressed. People, dogs and vehicles can frighten them and cause them to abandon their eggs, or chicks. Without the protection of both parents, eggs and chicks are unable to survive.
The chicks and eggs of fairy terns, and other shore birds such as the New Zealand dotterel (tūturiwhatu) and Chatham Island Ostercatcher (tōrea), are well camouflaged. This is great protection from predators that may fly above them, but their great camouflage makes it highly likely a person could step on an egg or chick without even realising.
Urban and beachfront developments
The increased development of houses, roads, hotels, restaurants, boardwalks, and other such construction on coastal and beachfront regions have disturbed these habitats and eliminated the homes of so many species.
For example, piers have been built on top of coral reefs, damaging these marine homes, people have taken over beaches and coastlines, forcing turtles to try and find new nesting sites, and surrounding vegetation has been removed to make way for buildings. This has all affected the behaviour and survival of wildlife with the decreased food, shelter, and increased pollution.
Sand is extracted as a way to make building materials like concrete blocks. This process leads to the destruction of ocean, coastal, and beach habitats, along with the animals that live there.
Sand extraction physically alters these habitats and causes erosion, which affects the lives of several species, including fish, dolphins, and crustaceans (crabs, shrimp, crayfish, etc.).
This erosion also leaves beaches and coastal areas more vulnerable to damage from storms and floods.
It is imperative that we protect our oceans, coastal, and beach habitats. Not only does the ocean supply people with oxygen, food, and livelihood, but the wildlife that inhabits these areas cannot survive without them. NZ has 44 marine reserves that help with conservation and protection of the oceans’ inhabitants – but more needs to be done. Become an ocean, coast, and beach habitat advocate and have a go at the list of things you can do to help these important animals below:
Adopt the six R’s
Accidents and injuries related to animals and rubbish are avoidable! There are plenty of ways that you can help keep rubbish from hurting our precious animals. Read on to see what you can do.
We're all familiar with the first three R’s: they're key ways in which we can help limit our waste – they are: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reducing the amount of waste that you create is one of the best ways to make positive environmental change. If you’re not generating waste, there will be less waste that can become a problem for animals and the environment.
Whenever you and your family are done with an item – whether it be an old blanket, a paper towel roll, or maybe a glass jar – stop and think to yourself, “can I reuse this?” An old blanket and a paper towel roll can be used as enrichment toys for animals, old pet toys can be donated to your local animal shelter/rescue, and a glass jar can be used to store liquids or as a vase. Reusing old items keeps them out of landfills, oceans, and other environments.
Recycling is when waste is transformed into something new again. I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are separate bins for items such as wrappers, bottles, and paper at your school. This is because some waste can be recycled, while some cannot. There are lots of products that can be recycled. They include: cardboard, paper, electronics, metals, plastics, and glass. If you’re ever unsure how to separate your waste, you can ask an adult for help!
So now that we've covered “reduce, reuse, recycle,” let’s talk about the other three Rs:
4. Refuse: say no to single use plastic!
Instead of using single-use plastic items, choose reusable items. For example:
Go through your things and rehome/donate any good, used items that you no longer want or need.
This R is all about composting! Talk to your family about how you can compost at home!
Organize a community beach clean-up
Just like the characters in SPCA’s storybook, “Marine Life Matters,” you can encourage your friends, family, and to come together to do a beach clean-up! Protecting the environments where these animals live is one of the most important actions you can take to protect these vulnerable animals.
Say no to harmful pesticides and fertilizers
Certain pesticides and fertilizers can lead to runoff polluted water into the ocean. The chemicals in this runoff can harm coral reefs, sea grass beds and estuary ecosystems. Instead, consider natural alternatives for the garden like planting onion, garlic or marigolds.
When visiting the beach keep shore birds, their eggs, and chicks safe:
Write a polite letter or email
You can write a polite email or letter to the government urging further protection of these habitats and the many endangered fish, birds and marine animals that live within them.
Spread the word
Help protect precious wildlife by sharing these facts and tips with all your friends, family, classmates, and teachers.
If you see a wild animal that is not sick, injured, or in danger. It is best to give them space and let them go about their day.
If you find a wild animal who is sick or injured, remember to put everyone’s safety first and with the help of an adult, call the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
DOC can help you locate a local wildlife rescue and/or come help the animal. It’s important to be as precise as possible about the animal’s location so they can be found quickly.