Butterfish at Ulva Island Marine Reserve
Image: Vincent Zintzen ©


Our rich and complex marine environment is subtropical to subantarctic and contains over 15,000 known species.


The following video showcases the marine life at Port Pegasus, in Stewart Island/Rakiura. Port Pegasus represents one of mainland New Zealand's most pristine marine environments.


Great diversity

New Zealand's seascape is particularly rich and complex due to its:

  • extension over 30° of latitude (from sub-tropical to sub-antarctic)
  • position on an active plate boundary
  • position in relation to major water masses and current systems.

These factors provide New Zealand with a rich diversity of marine habitats, which provide homes to over 15,000 known species. Scientists estimate that there may be as many as 65,000 marine species in New Zealand waters. Our isolation means that many of these species are not found anywhere else in the world.

Scientists estimate that as much as 80% of New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity may be found in the sea. Yet less than 1% of our marine environment has ever been surveyed. On average, seven new marine species are identified every fortnight.

Human impacts

The marine environment is impacted by humans through:

  • harvesting
  • land-based sources of pollution
  • sedimentation
  • introduction of marine pests.

Harvesting impacts can include the:

  • direct removal of species
  • reduced population sizes
  • altered community structures
  • physical damage to the marine environment from certain fishing methods, such as bottom trawling and dredging.

New Zealand’s fisheries are managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries using the Quota Management System, introduced in the mid-1980s. This system sets catch limits for commercially important species; these are allocated through individual transferable quotas.

In addition to managing fisheries, the government is responsible for ensuring the protection of rare and significant habitats, ecosystems and species, as well as a range of areas representative of the more common coastal, offshore and deep water habitats and their communities.

Definition of "marine environment"

Marine environment refers to New Zealand’s Territorial Sea (from the shore out to 12 nm) and Exclusive Economic Zone (from 12 nm from the shore to 200 nm from the shore).

DOC's role

Marine conservation is an important task for the Department of Conservation. DOC is responsible for:

  • Marine reserves
  • Marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, sea lions and fur seals;
  • Administering the regulations for the whale and dolphin watching industry; and
    the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which promotes the sustainable management of the natural and physical resources of the foreshore, seabed, coastal water and airspace from the high tide mark to the 12 nautical mile limit.

New Zealand’s fisheries are managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Back to top