A marine reserve is the government’s most comprehensive tool in the provision of area-based biodiversity protection in the marine environment. However, it is important to remember that marine reserves are not a panacea for all threats to the marine environment, integrated land and sea management is essential.
Marine reserves are specified areas of the sea and foreshore that are managed to preserve them in their natural state as the habitat of marine life for scientific 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.
Within a marine reserve, all marine life is protected and fishing and the removal or disturbance of any living or non-living marine resource is prohibited, except as necessary for permitted monitoring or research. This includes dredging, dumping or discharging any matter or building structures.
The public is welcome and encouraged to enjoy marine reserves. In all marine reserves you may: dive, snorkel, take photos, swim, kayak, anchor (with care), navigate through, picnic on the beach, build sand castles, investigate in rock pools etc.
Under the Marine Reserves Act 1971, the Department of Conservation is responsible for caring for and managing marine reserves. Management functions include marking marine reserve boundaries, law enforcement, issuing scientific permits and monitoring environmental changes.
Regular monitoring is occurring in most of New Zealand's marine reserves. Monitoring has shown that the most dramatic changes to reserves occur within three years of fishing ceasing.
Significant increases in the size and numbers of lobster and fish have been recorded at Cape Rodney-Okakari Point, Te Whanganui-a-Hei, Long Island-Kokomohua, Piopiotahi, Te Awaatu, and Te Tapuwae o Rongokako. At Te Whanganui-a-Hei lobster numbers are 15 times greater than non-reserve areas. At Piopiotahi they are seven times more abundant. At the Tonga the production of lobster eggs is estimated to be nine times greater than outside the reserve.
Diver inspecting mooring lines,
Fiordland Marine Area
At Te Angiangi and Tonga the numbers of lobsters and their size has significantly increased, but fish numbers and their size have remained unchanged. The reason for this remains unclear but at Te Angiangi it is thought that the lack of response by fish may be due to half the reef lying outside the reserve.
The number and size of snapper have increased at the Poor Knights Islands. At Cape Rodney-Okakari Point the number of legal sized snapper is now 28 times that outside the reserve.
Blue cod are significantly larger and more than twice as abundant in the Long Island-Kokomohua Marine Reserve. Lobsters, blue cod and butterfish are reported to be noticeably less wary of divers in the reserve compared to sites outside the reserve.
Research has shown that the Ngā Motu / Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area has greater abundance and species richness of reef fishes inside compared to the control sites located outside it.
Monitoring has shown that the Tuhua Marine Reserve has had limited consequences for the recovery of targeted reef fish species to date, but its isolated location means control of poaching is an issue.
Habitat changes have been recorded at a number of reserves. Increased rock lobster numbers result in greater predation on kina. This results in seaweed forests then being able to regenerate. Changes such as this have been recorded at Cape Rodney-Okakari Point and Te Whanganui-a-Hei. At the latter reserve algal biomass has been estimated to be over three times greater than outside the reserve.
Generally, the Department’s monitoring shows significant increases in marine environmental values within existing marine reserves. You can read more about the results of monitoring in the sections below for each marine reserve.
Caring for marine reserves
The success of marine reserves depends on caring and vigilant visitors. The community can become involved in helping the Department of Conservation with law enforcement. Community advisory committees consisting of representatives from tangata whenua, community and recreation groups, help with the management of some marine reserves.
History of marine reserves
New Zealand’s first marine reserve (Cape Rodney – Okakari Point Marine Reserve) was established in 1975 and was one of the world’s first no-take marine reserves. There are 34 marine reserves established in New Zealand waters.
Over half of these marine reserves were external applications lodged by interest groups including tangata whenua, conservation groups, fishers, divers and marine science interest groups.
Collectively, these reserves protect 7% of New Zealand’s territorial sea. However, 99% of this is in two marine reserves around isolated offshore island groups (Auckland and Kermadec), and very little, in fact less than the area of our smallest National Park (Abel Tasman), in our mainland territorial sea.
Of New Zealand’s total marine environment, just 0.3% is protected in marine reserves. Currently the highest level of protection outside of our Territorial Sea is through fisheries closures on trawling for 18 seamounts. The inclusion of these closures brings the area of marine protection in New Zealand’s marine environment to just over 3%.
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