Only 63 Māui dolphins wander the waters off the Western coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The few remaining survivors of the dolphin population have been gathered in the Māui Dolphin Sanctuary, a haven currently under threat of iron sands mining if action is not taken—and soon. While some propose there could be some research trawled out of the iron sands exploration, it will probably do far more harm than good, starting with the vulnerable Māui dolphin.

Uninvited Exploration

An exploration permit was granted to allow the exploration of iron sands within the confines of the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary, which happens to be home to a very endangered species of dolphins: the Māui dolphin. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society insists that an exploration “risks causing disturbance” to the Māui dolphin; their numbers are vulnerable and any disturbance could bring stress to the dolphins and change to the environment in which they live.

Other Threats

Besides the looming shadow of the iron sands permit, other factors have greatly contributed to the demise of the Māui dolphin.

With a low rate of reproductivity, these dolphins are even more at risk for extinction. While they once enjoyed a fertile population of around 1,500 during the 1970s, the introduction of gillnets drastically slashed their numbers by over a thousand in nearly a decade. These dolphins are indigenous to the waters of New Zealand, there is no possibility of expanding their population anywhere else.

Scanning The Waters Ahead

World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) outlook on the Māui dolphin’s future is a bleak one. With extinction predicted to be only a few decades away, the end of Māui dolphins could open waterways to economic hardship and horror. It is estimated that an ocean absent of the Māui dolphin could destroy New Zealand’s fishing export trade, worth NZ$1.56 billion, all the while wreaking havoc to its green, ecosystem-friendly veneer. In addition to the mining permit, if the practice of net fishing is not forced into extinction soon, it could mean the doom of both New Zealand’s precious Māui dolphins—and their economy.

But what if the Māui dolphin does indeed go extinct? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer warns that if even a single species attached to a food web is eliminated, other species could be erased as well. But a lack of dolphins could also lead to an overabundance of fish; this, in turn, could tip the balance of the ecosystem and impact the food fish consume.

In short, the end of the Māui dolphin could be the sole drop that begins the ripple effect of environmental destruction.

Finding Solutions

On the flipside, WWF offers a beacon of hope to an otherwise austere projection. Assuming the New Zealand government encourages and enforces fishermen to transition their practice that promotes the safety of dolphins, the Māui dolphin just might be saved after all.

The average citizen can make their voice heard. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society have both kickstarted petitions, which are available to anyone with access to the Internet.

Waves of Change

While the Māui dolphin once brightened the coast of New Zealand decades ago, today their population only occasionally rises from the water’s wake. And while these dolphins are very much threatened and nearly all wiped out, they can be saved through the collective help of readers and governments alike. All it takes is a single voice to generate waves of change.

Image Attribute: Pixabay