Destruction and reconstruction: is freshwater offsetting achieving No Net Loss?
‘Biodiversity offsetting’ aims to address the residual negative environmental impacts of human development. It’s goal is to achieve No Net Loss (NNL), and preferably a Net Gain of biodiversity attributes between development and offset sites. Biodiversity offsetting suffers from a lack of ‘proof of concept’, as little work has been done to critically test the ecological efficacy of offsetting practices. Offsetting of stream ecological functions was investigated in Aotearoa New Zealand, via review of regulatory documentation for 76 offsets and field assessments of 14 offset sites. Field results indicated some functions, including fish passage connectivity, respond rapidly post-offset enhancement whilst others exhibit recovery lags (such as fish spawning habitat provision). However, most offsets were considered unlikely to achieve NNL due to failures in practice and process. Factors included inadequate consideration for restoration uncertainty, inappropriate monitoring conditions, insufficient data and inequivalent trade-offs. Key linkages between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, particularly regarding floodplain connectivity, were poorly considered in offset implementation. Thus, development may be occurring based on inadequate regulatory processes, and poorly evaluated ecological outcomes. These findings join a growing body of evidence which indicates that, in the context of a global biodiversity crisis, offsetting is not achieving its purpose of NNL.