Making positive impact on ocean law reform

#Earth&Ocean An interdisciplinary research team, co-led by Associate Professor Elizabeth Macpherson at University of Canterbury (UC), hopes their evidence-based findings will help create change for the better around protecting our ocean and sustainably managing relationships between people and marine environments.

  • Adrienne Paul and Liz Macpherson

    University of Canterbury Senior Law Lecturer Adrienne Paul and Associate Professor Elizabeth Macpherson

SDG 14

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 - Life Below Water

Associate Professor Elizabeth Macpherson is one of Aotearoa New Zealand's leading environmental law researchers, honoured last year with the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities. Front of mind for her in 2022 is the state of our oceans and concern that the current marine management framework is fragmented, overly complex and spread over too many discrete laws and policies that are siloed from each other.

As the Government moves towards ocean law reform, she and the research team, including UC Senior Law Lecturer Adrienne Paul, a voice for the ocean and for the people related to it.

"We're trying to use our research to influence and inform ocean law reform processes that are already underway by taking up opportunities to communicate about the ocean in a way that is relevant for policy makers and communities," says Associate Professor Macpherson. "As part of that, we want to help bring people together and foster positive relationships with our research collaborators across government, iwi and industry in a way that leverages how much we all care about the ocean."

The interdisciplinary team includes researchers from around Aotearoa from various research organisations including Crown Research Institutes and universities. As co-leader for policy and legislation for Ecosystem-based management (EBM), Associate Professor Macpherson is looking closely at the legal framework that surrounds the ocean and how that could work in a more interconnected and holistic way. The three-and-a-half-year project, which started in 2020, is part of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

Te Ao Māori perspectives are central to the shaping of this project and its outcomes. Adrienne Paul, of Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tuwharetoa ki kawerau, Te Arawa ki Maketu and Ngāi Tūhoe descent, is fostering a place-based partnership approach with hapū and iwi. Two hapū in the Bay of Plenty region, where she is from, are taking part: Te Patuwai (Motiti Island) and Ngāti Whakahemo (Motunau Island).

"In both cases, we're looking at current issues in respect of the law and how the ocean is being managed around them," says Adrienne. "It requires a lot of engagement; I'm working to bring Tikanga Māori to the project by engaging appropriately with both hapū in order to understand what the larger issues are and feeding that back into our research."

"Over the next 12 months, we will be focussing on solidifying the relationships we have been building - with iwi, with government and with the fishing industry - and making sure our work is having an impact," says Associate Professor Macpherson. "We want to reach as wide an audience as possible, for example, by accompanying research papers with podcasts, infographics, social media and other forms of accessible communication."

A research paper exploring options for an ecosystem-based approach to oceans law and policy, drawing on Te Ao Māori, social and environmental context, is due to be published by the team later this year.

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