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Marine dumping

The disposal of waste in New Zealand’s waters is managed under both domestic and international legislation. Read below about the regulations that apply, including for burials and disposal of vessels at sea.

Waste disposal within the 12 nautical mile limit
Waste disposal beyond the 12 nautical mile limit
Disposal of vessels at sea
Marine dumping permit
Burials at sea
National policy on the sea disposal of waste

The most common types of material that are disposed of are dredge spoil from ports and harbours, and decommissioned vessels.

Waste disposal within the 12 nautical mile limit

Waste disposal within the 12 nautical mile limit of New Zealand's territorial waters is regulated by regional councils under the Resource Management Act 1991. It is the Marine Pollution Regulations 1998 made under the Resource Management Act that specifically applies here.

Resource Management Act 1991 [New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office]
Resource Management (Marine Pollution) Regulations 1998 [New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office]

Waste disposal beyond the 12 nautical mile limit

Waste disposal beyond the 12 nautical mile limit in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone is administered by Maritime New Zealand under the Maritime Transport Act 1994. The Act authorises the Director of Maritime New Zealand to issue a permit for the disposal of waste or other matter:

  • into the sea, or onto or into the seabed, within the exclusive economic zone of New Zealand
  • onto or into the continental shelf of New Zealand, beyond the outer limits of that exclusive economic zone, or into the sea above that part of the continental shelf.

Maritime Transport Act 1994 [New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office]

Five locations are identified as preferred areas for marine disposal beyond the 12 nautical mile limit in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone (within the jurisdiction of Maritime New Zealand). These locations are existing explosives dumping grounds.

Applications may be considered for other areas in accordance with Marine Protection Rule Part 180 and the National Policy on the Sea Disposal of Waste, but any such proposals will require a greater level of environmental impact assessment and clear justification why existing sites cannot be used.

New Zealand Guidelines for Sea Disposal of Waste [PDF: 192Kb, 88 pages]

The 1996 Protocol to the 1972 London Convention

Dumping standards for both jurisdictions (see points 1 and 2 above) in New Zealand are derived from the 1996 Protocol, to which New Zealand is a party. The 1996 Protocol refers to the International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes or Other Matter, 1972. It is also known as the London Convention.

The global aim of the 1996 Protocol is to:
“Protect and preserve the marine environment from all sources of pollution and take effective measures (according to scientific, technical and economic capabilities), to prevent, reduce and where practicable eliminate pollution caused by dumping or incineration at sea of wastes or other matter.”

A key principle of the 1996 Protocol is the consideration of avoidance, re-use and minimisation of waste sources in order to minimise the amount of material that is required to be dumped at sea. This principle is a well-established requirement of the New Zealand domestic legislation.

The 1996 Protocol embodies the precautionary approach to dumping waste at sea. Rather than setting out the wastes that are NOT allowed to be dumped, the 1996 Protocol defines categories of wastes that MAY be considered for dumping at sea, provided the applicant can demonstrate that no adverse effects will result. All other categories are prohibited from disposal at sea.

Learn more about the 1996 Protocol [International Maritime Organization]

Wastes or other matter that may be considered for dumping

The following wastes or other matter may be considered for dumping, provided that any material capable of creating floating debris or otherwise contributing to pollution of the marine environment has been removed to the maximum extent. Also provided that the material dumped poses no serious obstacle to fishing or navigation.

Wastes or other matter may be considered for dumping:

  • dredged material
  • sewage sludge
  • fish waste, or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations
  • vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea
  • inert, inorganic geological material
  • organic material of natural origin
  • bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similarly harmless materials for which the concern is physical impact. Dumping is limited to those circumstances where these wastes are generated at locations, such as small islands with isolated communities, having no practicable access to disposal options other than dumping
  • carbon dioxide streams from carbon dioxide processes for sequestration.

Disposal of vessels at sea

Applicants are required to demonstrate that no pollutants are on board vessels intended for disposal at sea and that no other viable disposal options are possible.

In addition, applicants needing to tow a vessel to a disposal location must demonstrate that it is 'fit for tow'. This will ordinarily involve the use of an independent surveyor of ships and provision of a passage plan.

Disposal of Vessels at sea - guidance for applicants on towing plans [PDF: 103Kb, 4 pages]

Burials at sea

Applications for burial at sea will be considered at the five existing Exclusive Economic Zone marine disposal sites. Please contact Maritime New Zealand for more information.

Marine dumping permit

A dumping permit is required to dump waste in New Zealand’s waters, including for the disposal of vessels and sea and burial at sea.

There are no fixed fees associated with applications for dumping permits. An hourly rate however is applied for staff involved in accordance with the Shipping (Charges) Regulations 2000. Usually this will involve scientific staff or staff at managerial levels, charged at a rate of $235.00 per hour inclusive of GST.

Apply for a marine dumping permit

National policy on the sea disposal of waste

Maritime New Zealand’s national policy on the sea disposal of waste provides marine resource users with more certainty about how the sea disposal of waste is managed.

Read our national policy on the sea disposal of waste