New Zealand is a remote archipelago with extensive marine territory. We have relied on the sea for nourishment since humans first settled here, and at times this has resulted in unsustainable pressure on the marine environment.

The New Zealand Government is committed to ensuring that New Zealand’s marine biodiversity is maintained in a healthy state, and an important tool for this is Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The aim is to establish a network of MPAs that is comprehensive and representative of New Zealand’s marine habitats and ecosystems. The network will also protect outstanding, rare, distinctive or important marine habitats or ecosystems.

View a map showing the location of New Zealand's ‘Type 1 and 2’ Marine Protected Areas, as defined by the MPA Policy Protection Standard: Map of New Zealand's MPAs (JPG, 1116K).

Consulting the community

Marine Protected Areas are established through consultation – have your say.

Marine reserves

Marine reserves currently provide the highest level of marine protection in New Zealand. There are 44 marine reserves in New Zealand’s territorial waters, which are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Marine reserves are special places and can be enjoyed by everyone, offering spectacular opportunities to see rare and abundant sea creatures and environments. Activities such as sailing, kayaking, snorkelling and diving are just some of the ways you can explore what is above and below the surface of our marine reserves.

The main aim of a marine reserve is to create an area free from the removal of marine habitats and life, providing a useful comparison for scientists to study. Marine reserves may be established in areas that contain underwater scenery, natural features, or marine life of such distinctive quality, or so typical, beautiful or unique that their continued preservation is in the national interest.

The Marine Reserves Act was passed in 1971, and in 1975 New Zealand’s first marine reserve was created at Cape Rodney-Okakari Point (also known as the Leigh or Goat Island marine reserve).

Under the Marine Reserves Act a broad range of activities can be managed, controlled or excluded from marine reserves, including marine farming, fishing, other extraction, anchoring, point discharges and research.

There are strict rules around the removal or disturbance of marine habitats and life within the boundaries of a marine reserve. Please make sure you are aware of any specific rules and regulations when visiting these areas.

If monitoring or research within a marine reserve includes any activity that would otherwise be an offence under the Marine Reserves Act, a permit will be required. For more information see Marine reserve scientific research permits or contact your nearest DOC office.

Blue maomao, Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve. Photo: Helen Kettles.
Blue maomao, Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve

Kaikōura marine management area

The Kaikōura (Te Tai ō Marokura) Marine Management Act 2014 established a number of marine protection and sustainable fisheries measures in the Kaikōura marine environment.

Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area

This MPA surrounds Nga Motu/the Sugar Loaf Islands, offshore from New Plymouth. It used to be a marine park, but its protection was strengthened in 1991 with a special Act of Parliament, to exclude oil exploration. A large part of this MPA is now included in Tapuae Marine Reserve.

Mimiwhangata Marine Park

Situated between Whangarei and the Bay of islands, this Marine Park was established in 1984 and is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) under the Fisheries Act. Commercial fishing has been prohibited since 1994, and recreational fishing methods have been restricted. While there are concerns about the high level of recreational fishing within the park, Mimiwhangata does qualify as an MPA.

Fiordland Marine Management Area

The marine reserves of Fiordland are grouped together in an overarching MPA with its own legislation. It was created in 2005.

Te Whaka a te Wera Mataitai Reserve (Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island)

This mataitai reserve qualifies as an MPA because it prohibits set nets, cod pots, drag nets and shellfish dredging. Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve lies within the mataitai reserve (though it is not part of it).

Pukerua Bay Fisheries closure

This fisheries closure qualifies as an MPA, and is administered under the Fisheries Act.

Cable and Pipeline Protection Zones

These prevent all marine-based activities that may threaten undersea cables or pipelines. They can have the effect of protecting local species and habitat. If the positive effects are strong enough to meet the MPA standard, Cable and Pipeline Protection Zones could qualify for MPA status. They are established under the Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Act 1996.

Marine Protected Areas plans, guidelines and analysis


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DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.