WELLINGTON, July 17 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand government came under renewed attack Thursday over its custodianship of the world' s rarest and smallest dolphin after revelations it had issued mineral mining permits in a dolphin sanctuary.
The opposition Green Party revealed the seabed mining permits were issued for areas offshore from the west of the North Island in the habitat of the Maui's dolphin, which is estimated to have a population of just 55.
The permit areas were in a third of the Maui's dolphin sanctuary and followed revelations that permits had also been issued for oil exploration in the area, Green Party oceans spokesperson Gareth Hughes said in a statement.
There had been 254 sightings of Maui's dolphins within the areas where the mineral mining permits had been granted, he said.
The permits, five of which had been granted within the North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary, were for a range of minerals.
"The dolphins' habitat would be degraded as a result of noise and pollution and there's a risk they'd be displaced into areas where they have no protection," Hughes said.
"The future survival of the Maui's dolphin is already bleak -- there are only 55 left in the world. Mineral mining will push them closer to extinction," he said.
"This is the world's most endangered dolphin we are talking about here. We should be doing everything we can to protect them."
Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges told Radio New Zealand Thursday that the government knew enough to be able to grant the permits.
"We've seen over successive governments resource activity in this area. On an evidence-based approach there has been no harm to Maui's dolphins. We take the issue seriously, that's why we have followed the science and the scientists and the government has commissioned a lot of work in this regard," Bridges said.
Last month, International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientists issued a third report saying the Maui's dolphin is on the verge of extinction.
An IWC Scientific Committee report calling for immediate action is to be formally submitted to the IWC at its meeting in Slovenia from Sept. 11 to 14, and the IWC is expected to formally adopt its recommendations for the extension of fishing restrictions in the Maui's dolphin habitat off the west of the North Island in order to prevent deaths as bycatch.
The IWC report said the government's "current management situation falls short of that required to reverse the Maui's decline."