The tension between conservation and tourism in New Zealand: A Case Study on Kauri Dieback Disease

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Written by: Michaela Cleary

New Zealand’s pristine natural landscapes and unique biodiversity are key attractions for domestic and international visitors. The Department of Conservation (DOC) is associated with most of these attractions and are responsible for regulating and managing how people interact with the natural environment (1). In accordance with the Conservation Act 1987, they are a government agency who are responsible for all matters related to the protection of New Zealand’s flora and fauna. This responsibility also includes a strong focus on recreational activities which play an important role within the New Zealand tourism industry (2, 3).

These priorities have conflicting values, and this becomes apparent when tourism related activities compromise DOC’s capacity to protect native species. New Zealand has a growing tourism industry that is largely dependent on the natural assets that are found here (4). Kauri forests in the upper North Island are a huge component of the tourism sector but their existence is threatened by Kauri dieback (KDB) disease. This disease is caused by the Phytophthora agathidicida (PA) pathogen that can become embedded within soil particles (5). It is spread through soil movement and occurs when soil particles become attached to the footwear of individuals (6). The pathogen operates by “damaging the tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving it to death” (5). Most Kauri that become infected with this pathogen will die and there in no known cure for this disease. This means that that prevention strategies are imperative. Often symptoms are not detectable for ten years and this is problematic for documenting the presence of KDB disease (7).                                                                                                                                                                                                             It is important to acknowledge that pigs and other wildlife are also responsible for spreading PA, but humans are also known to play a huge role in the transportation this pathogen (5). This issue is important because Kauri trees are among some of the most iconic biodiversity in New Zealand. Their extinction would also involve a permanent loss of a natural attraction.

This tension between conservation and tourism means we are now facing a dilemma over whether tourists should have access to these sites. Renowned natural historian David Attenborough believes that “no one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced” (8). This is relevant to the idea that DOC should allow people to build meaningful connections with the natural environment, while also preventing the spread of KDB disease. If DOC allows these recreational activities to continue, they can regulate and manage how people interact with the Kauri forests. Alternatively, DOC may also need to consider prioritising conservation efforts over our desire to promote the tourism industry in New Zealand. Efforts to advance the economy should arguably not compromise our ability to protect this keystone species. If we cease to act now, Kauri trees may face extinction and will no longer serve as a tourist attraction. KDB disease is just one example of the conflict that occurs between conservation and tourism in New Zealand. These competing priorities will continue to challenge how DOC chooses to respond to these issues in the future.


1. Department of Conervation. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from

2. Environment Foundation. (2018). Minister and Department of Conservation. Retrieved from

3. Conservation Act 1987

4. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. (2018). New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2018 – 2024. Retrieved from

5. Keep Kauri Standing. (n.d.) Understanding the Disease. Retrieved from

6. Ministry of Primary Industries. (2019). Kauri dieback. Retrieved from

7. Keep Kauri Standing. (n.d.). Kauri Maps. Retrieved from

8. Williams, M. A. (2013, 4 April). Securing Nature’s Future. Ecologist. Retrieved from