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New Zealand Marine Reserves

Updated on September 30, 2014

How many reserves are there in New Zealand, and what are they for?

New Zealand marine reserves are areas of ocean that are closed to fishing, and various other activities, in order to preserve fish stocks and ecosystems that are especially valuable, representative or unique, in the national interest. At heart, a marine reserve is a fisheries management tool - but only because economies tend to come before conservation.

The resulting reserves are valuable resources for education and research - I remember going on school trips to reserves, in primary and secondary school, and many field trips while at University (studying to be a marine biologist). Most of the studies we did would not have worked well anywhere else, as there just aren't enough animals to study! Reserves - good reserves - are also amazing places to visit for entertainment, from safe swimming and snorkelling, to scuba diving. Goat Island (the oldest and best known reserves) is a hugely popular tourist spot (so popular that there's often no parking in summer), which has kept the nearby towns of Leigh and Warkworth in business.

While the option of closing areas off to fishing is used worldwide, New Zealand has been the most successful. Reserves are managed by the Department of Conservation, but there is a great deal of misconception around how and why, and what affect reserves will have on the local communities.

This page is a quick look at the current state of marine reserves in New Zealand- specifically, the number, area, establishment and distribution of marine reserves, as well as touching on the proven benefits and issues.. I owe a great debt to Tony and Jenny Enderby - Professional Divers and Underwater Photographers who wrote the book A Guide to New Zealand's Marine Reserves - currently the only guidebook to New Zealand's reserves (and very good!)

A view from the beach of Goat Island marine reserve
A view from the beach of Goat Island marine reserve

Have You Ever Been To A Reserve?

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A Map of the Reserves in NZ - There are currently thirty one full marine reserves, plus outlying islands, in New Zealand.

Marine Reserves around New Zealand in 2011
Marine Reserves around New Zealand in 2011

Five of these marine reserves lie inside the Hauraki Gulf, a large area of coastal water between the Northland and Coromandel peninsulas (the two bits at the top of the North Island).

The Rules of the Marine Reserve

Touch nothing. Harm nothing. Take nothing.

Not even shells - they're part of the habitat!

What Is A Marine Reserve, Exactly? - Types of Marine Protected Areas in New Zealand

A marine reserve has a specific definition in New Zealand that is actually unique. Unlike most of the world, New Zealand reserves allow full public access, and no fishing, whether recreational or personal. Overseas Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) usually allow recreational fishing or ban all visitors without special permits. This often has the same unfortunate result as the example of the Poor Knights - these areas become popular game fishing spots and fish stocks do not recover.

There are also some other types of MPAs in New Zealand. Marine Parks are similar to what is usually found overseas - a designated area of protection, but with very variable and individual limits on access and fishing. They usually offer much less protection than a full reserve.

There are also three Maori-specific forms of marine protection. Rahui are temporary closures, either for cultural reasons or fishing pressure. More permanent forms are the less restrictive Mataitai reserves, and Taiapure, which are controlled by local iwi ('tribes').

Outside of the territorial sea, there are eighteen seamounts closed to trawlers, due to the amount of damage they cause and some Marine Mammal Sanctuaries around New Zealand.

There are also three Maori-specific forms of marine protection. Rahui are temporary closures, either for cultural reasons or fishing pressure. More permanent forms are the less restrictive

An orange sponge, north island beach of New Zealand
An orange sponge, north island beach of New Zealand

How Big Are The Reserves?

How much of New Zealand waters are protected?

There are only two truly large reserves in New Zealand waters, and these are highly inaccessible, distant island groups - the Auckland Islands and the Kermadecs. These two reserves are responsible for 99% of New Zealand's protected waters, at 484,000 and 745,000 hectares, respectively.

In total, the ten Fiordland reserves protect 10,000 hectares of habitat.

The vast majority of New Zealand reserves are about 500 hectares across - that's five square kilometres. Overall, 7% of New Zealand coastal waters are protected, however, the majority of this area is in the two island groups. Only 0.3% of the actual New Zealand coastline has any form of protection, which is far short of the recommended 10%. As a comparison, 30% of land is in some kind of National Park.

How Are Marine Reserves Created? - Does the Department of Conservation have an evil agenda?

Queen Triggerfish
Queen Triggerfish | Source

With the exception of Fiordland, which has a very effective local organisation, known as the Guardians of Fiordland, marine reserves in New Zealand are proposed on an ad hoc basis. This is mainly because the legislation around reserves prevents the DoC actually selecting sites. New reserves must be proposed and agreed to by the local community.

The closest DoC has come to selecting reserves is by polling areas on which location they would prefer a reserve to be created. Local opposition would have stopped any of these reserves in their tracks and has prevented others (both recent proposals - Akaroa (2010) and Aotea/Great Barrier Island (2008) were declined in favour of local recreational fishing groups, despite the majority of submissions being in favour).

Reserves are a good place to see many species of fish and seabirds that you will have trouble finding elsewhere.

Black Oystercatches
Black Oystercatches | Source

The Distribution of Marine Reserves

Where are they located around New Zealand?

Marine reserve distribution is highly unsatisfactory from a conservation point of view.

The majority are clustered along the East coast of Northland (from Pollen Island and Long Bay in the Auckland region, northwards), around the Cook Strait, and around the Fiordland fjords.

There is a single reserve on the East coast of the South Island - the smallest in New Zealand, at 216 ha! There are also a handful scattered along the east coast of the North Island.

The entire upper west coast of the South Island (basically, everything but the Fiordlands), the west coast of the North Island, and the entire east coast of the south Island are unprotected. That's a LOT of coastline.


Learn More At These Links! - The Best Resources To Learn About NZ Marine Reserves

To summarise; there are thirty reserves spread inconsistently around New Zealand, which only protect a very small percentage of New Zealand waters. 99% of this protection is around two outlying island groups. They are established or declined based on the level of local community support, and maintained by the Department of Conservation.

Reserves have been proven to have a variety of benefits, such as conservation, education, research and recreation - Goat Island is a hugely popular holiday and school trip destination, for example. There are also cases of 'spill over', with local reserve stocks increasing local fishing catches.

No-take reserves are the only effective way to protect fish species, marine biodiversity and fisheries stock levels

© 2014 FlynntheCat1

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    • TenerifeLowcost profile image

      TenerifeLowcost 6 years ago

      Wow some really interesting stuff on this lens - I am learning so much on Squidoo!

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      That's an amazing comparison: 30% of the land is protected (that's a huge amount!) but only .3% of the coastline. Just wanted to let you know that I aced the quiz ... at least I didn't get any wrong :-)

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 6 years ago

      Beautiful lens!