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The resident West Coast population at the 2001 Census was estimated to be 30,303 people. In the period between censuses the region experienced the greatest percentage decline (6.8 percent) in population of any region in the country, equating to 2211 people. The West Coast has New Zealand's smallest population, making up less than 1 percent of the national population. While more than 85 percent of the nation's population lives in urban areas, only an estimated 56.9 percent of West Coasters are urban dwellers. The most significant urban area is Greymouth with a usually resident population of 9525 people, 31.4 percent of the region's population in 2001. The West Coast has a population density of only 1.41 people per square kilometre, compared with the national average of 13.97 per square kilometre in 1998. This makes it the most sparsely populated region in New Zealand.
The West Coast has an estimated land area of 2,333,600 ha, 8.5 percent of New Zealand's land area. The region is elongated extending more than 600 kilometres from Kahurangi in the north to Awarua Point in the south. The Southern Alps separate the West Coast from Canterbury while the Tasman Sea marks the western boundary. The West Coast region is the fifth largest in New Zealand. Te Waipounamu (one of the country's two World Heritage sites) traverses the region and it includes four national parks: namely Fiordland, Mt Aspiring, Mt Cook and Westland. The Southern Alps act as a barrier to the predominantly westerly weather, which in turn, ensures that the region experiences the highest annual rainfall of any region nationally. Poor climatic conditions coupled with the region's inaccessible mountainous nature result in the region experiencing regular flooding, landslides and earthquakes. The region's soils are generally infertile as a result of constant water leaching. These factors make most of the region's land unsuitable for farming.
The West Coast's GDP in 1997-98 was estimated to be $0.8 billion or 0.8 percent of the national GDP. Mining, forestry, fishing and dairy farming are significant industries. In recent years tourism has also established a strong foothold in the economy. The West Coast has an estimated 260 million tonnes of recoverable coal reserves with between 1 and 1.5 million tonnes annually extracted and exported overseas for steel production. Gold mining is still a significant industry, although not as large as in the past. The contribution made by mining to the local economy is reflected in the high location quotients for the mining and quarrying industry (LQ 21.95) and in the processing of non-metallic minerals (LQ 3.08).
Until recently, indigenous forests formed the basis of a significant wood felling and logging industry (LQ 4.41). This included harvesting of beech and podocarps such as rimu. Planted exotic forest is now becoming the mainstay of the industry. As at 1 April 1998 exotic forest plantations accounted for 32,607 ha. Other industries with a comparative advantage relative to the nation include dairy farming (LQ 2.88), dairy processing (LQ 2.25) and fishing and hunting (LQ 3.93). The transportation of mining and forestry products has resulted in a high location quotient for the water transport industry (LQ 2.70). The growing emphasis on tourism is reflected in the accommodation, restaurant and cafés sector location quotient of 1.95.
The West Coast has an ecological footprint of 121,890 ha. This represents 1.1 percent of New Zealand's total ecological footprint and is the third lowest of any region. It is slightly higher than the Tasman region (82,180 ha) but lower than Marlborough (163,810 ha). The West Coast region's footprint is only 7.0 percent of Canterbury's.
The West Coast region's ecological footprint per capita is 3.70 ha. This is similar to the per capita footprints of Manawatu-Wanganui region (3.80 ha) and Canterbury (3.57 ha) but is 20.1 percent higher than the New Zealand average of 3.08 ha. This figure is higher relative to the nation primarily because of the low productivity of the land on the West Coast. Susceptibility to flooding, landslips and the like, irrespective of land fertility, has meant that farming is often conducted on marginal land that produces variable yields over time. It is estimated that lower than average productivity exists across the entire agriculture industry, including sheep, beef and mixed livestock, dairying, horticulture and fruit growing.
The useful land area of the West Coast is estimated to be 266,250 ha, meaning that West Coast has an ecological surplus of 144,360 ha. In ecological footprint terms this means that the West Coast is largely self-sufficient.
The agricultural land component of the West Coast region's ecological footprint consists of 78,440 ha (refer to Table 16.1). In this way, agricultural land comprises 64.4 percent of the region's footprint. Like most rural regions in New Zealand, this land is predominantly located within the region. Some 6100 ha (5.0 percent of the region's footprint), however, is embodied in goods and services imported interregionally with a significant proportion originating from Southland. This includes land embodied in purchases of sheep and beef related food products. West Coast industries are unable to met local demand for these products and hence the importation from Southland.
The forest land component of the ecological footprint consists of 4170 ha. This represents only 3.4 percent of the West Coast's ecological footprint and in relative terms is among the lowest of any region. By comparison, the average West Coast resident appropriates 0.13 ha annually while the average New Zealand appropriates nearly 1.7 times this figure (0.2 ha per person). One possible reason for this difference is a declining population, resulting in a depressed housing market which in turn leads to fewer new houses being built. Overall, an estimated 3030 ha of forest land is embodied in local goods and services purchased by West Coast residents annually. This component of the footprint does not include the hypothetical land area occupied by trees planted to sequester CO2 emissions.
The degraded land component makes up 19.3 percent (23,520 ha) of the West Coast's ecological footprint. This figure is substantially higher than the comparable figure nationally (8.2 percent). Two key explanations are:
This component is almost entirely (96.6 percent) made up of within-region land.
The energy land component of the region's footprint is estimated to be 15,710 ha. Whilst the relative share of the energy footprint (12.9 percent) differs greatly from its national equivalent (16.6 percent), in per capita terms the two are similar. Most of this land is appropriated from within the region (11,630 ha) although an additional 3640 ha is embodied in goods and services purchased from overseas.
The purchase of manufacturing sector products accounted for 42,290 ha of embodied land in the West Coast's ecological footprint (refer to Table 16.2). Over 80 percent of this figure, 34,840 ha, comes from within the region. It is also predominantly made up of agricultural land. A further 5930 ha is embodied in manufactured products purchased from other regions in particular Southland.
Land embodied in the purchase of service sector products required to support West Coast residents constitutes 35.8 percent of the region's footprint. In this way, land embodied in service sector purchases (43,630 ha) is slightly greater than land embodied in manufactured goods (42,290 ha). Backward linkages from the service sector to the farming sector on the West Coast economy partially explain why this figure is so high. The actual physical space occupied by the region's service sector also contributes to this finding. Unlike the manufacturing sector, a significant proportion of land embodied in service sector products consumed by West Coast residents comes from other nations (4880 ha).
Of the land embodied in purchases from other sectors by West Coast residents, agriculture products contribute 10,630 ha while utility and construction purchases make up 7840 ha of the region's ecological footprint. Once again, these figures are made up of almost entirely within-region land.
West Coast residents also purchase products that are made outside of the region. The vast majority of land embodied in these purchases (10,580 ha) comes from abroad. This includes land embodied in goods purchased from overseas by retailers that are on-sold to West Coast households within an additional margin. Thus, land embodied in purchases of motor vehicles, computers, many household appliances and furniture is included in this figure.
The land embodied in imports into the West Coast economy is 36,030 ha, while exports into the region embody 235,910 ha of land (refer to Table 16.3). This means that the West Coast is a net provider of land to other regions and nations, having a positive Ecological Balance of Trade of 199,880 ha.
Sales of manufactured products from the West Coast embody an estimated 116,510 ha of land. This represents approximately half of the region's embodied land exports. Like many regions in New Zealand this land consists of Agricultural and forest land destined for other countries. Small quantities of land associated with mining are also included. On an interregional basis, however, the region is a significant net importer of land embodied in manufactured products (5230 ha). This occurs because either:
The region's export-driven focus is also apparent in the quantity of land embodied in forestry products. On an annual basis some 23,360 ha of land embodied in forestry products leaves the region with slightly more than two-thirds heading offshore. Similarly, the region's export focus on mining is also highlighted. It is estimated that 7180 ha of embodied land is exported annually in mining sector products.
Of the remaining sectors in the West Coast economy the following have fairly small and close to neutral Ecological Balance of Trade results: fishing and hunting (1600 ha) and utilities and construction (310 ha). The exception is the region's service sector, which has an Ecological Balance of Trade surplus of 6130 ha - this finding is explained by backward linkages to forestry and mining.
The West Coast is a net producer of agricultural land (refer to Table 16.4). Agricultural land embodied in international exports (128,520 ha) outweighs that embodied in international imports (17,550 ha) by 7.3 times. This land is sourced from all farming types but more so from dairying and less so from horticulture crops and fruit.
The West Coast's comparative advantage in forestry products is clearly highlighted. In Balance of Trade terms, forest land embodied in products sold (24,890 ha) by the West Coast economy outweigh equivalent purchases from both other regions (320 ha) and nations (1620 ha).
The trade flows of both degraded land and energy land for the West Coast economy show a positive net Balance of Trade. Specifically, in net terms degraded and energy land embodied in the exports out of the region respectively accounts for 9570 ha and 7840 ha of land. The region's net outflow of embodied degraded land, particularly to international locations, is linked with the region's large precious metal and coal mining operations.
Figure 16.1 provides a summary of the overall flows of embodied land of the West Coast economy. This diagram indicates that the West Coast is self-sufficient in embodied land with relatively few imports required to support local households. In addition, the diagram indicates that the West Coast's economy is export orientated. Embodied land flows out of the region equates to 235,910 ha, 6.5 times greater than flows into the region. In this way, the West Coast is has positive Balance of Trade of 199,880 ha.