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.

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, generally prohibiting harvesting or human intervention. There are over 30 marine reserves in New Zealand’s territorial waters, which are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

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

The main aim of a marine reserve is to create an area largely free of human impacts, 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).

People are welcome to visit marine reserves, and many offer spectacular opportunities to see rare and abundant sea creatures and environments.

Proposed Kaikōura marine protected areas

The Kaikōura (Te Tai ō Marokura) Marine Management Bill was drafted for the protection and sustainable use of 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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