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The sanctuary has three key restrictions for users of the Bay of Islands:
- No one is allowed in the water within 300 m of a marine mammal.
- No vessel to approach within 300 m of marine mammals – if your vessel breaches the 300 m rule for a marine mammal you must stop. You must remain stopped until any marine mammals are at least 300 m away.
- You must travel 5 knots or less at all times while within the marine mammal safe zones.
If you see someone breaking the restrictions call us on 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
If you break the restrictions
It is a punishable offence to break the restrictions of the:
Penalties can include up to a $800 infringement fee and maximum fine of $1,600 if an infringement notice is issued for the alleged breach of the Sanctuary restrictions.
Prosecutions may be pursued that could lead to an imprisonment term not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding $100,000.
Anywhere in the marine mammal sanctuary
When boating within the marine mammal sanctuary, stay more than 300 m away from any marine mammal.
If you find your vessel within 300 m of any marine mammal in the water, you must stop your vessel. You must remain stopped until the marine mammals are more than 300 m away. It is not an offence if your vessel drifts while stopped.
300 m is the equivalent of the length of 3 rugby fields.
In designated safe zones
Speed limit: 5 knots or less at all times
If you’re within a marine mammal safe zone, your vessel must travel 5 knots or less, regardless of whether a marine mammal is visible.
No one is allowed in the water within 300 m of a marine mammal - scuba diving is included in this.
If you intend to go diving, preparation is key. Prior to entering the water for a dive in the Bay of Islands, plan for encountering marine mammals:
- include actions that will be taken if you encounter a marine mammal in your pre-dive safety briefing
- ensure that these actions are captured in your dive plan
- ensure that your surface safety person, and/or skipper, does a thorough scan for marine mammals before anybody enters the water from either shore or a vessel. If there are marine mammals present within 300 m of your entry point, do not enter the water until they are more than 300 m away.
If you encounter a marine mammal once you have commenced your dive, actions should include:
- stay together as a group
- don’t deviate from your dive plan
- you don’t need to exit the water - remember safety is first
- maintain your depth and enjoy watching the marine mammal respectfully
- do not pursue interactions with the marine mammal
- when you surface from your safety stop, move swiftly to the vessel or shore and exit the water if it is safe to do so
- do not re-enter the water until the marine mammal is more than 300 m away.
No one is allowed in the water within 300 m of a marine mammal – snorkelling and swimming are included in this.
You should still stay safe while snorkelling or swimming, but unlike diving, it’s generally safe to exit the water upon becoming aware of marine mammals.
Prior to entering the water for a swim or snorkel:
- do a scan of the water
- if you see any marine mammals, delay your snorkel until they’re 300 m away.
If you encounter a marine mammal once you have started swimming or snorkelling:
- exit the water at your closest safe exit point
- remain out of the water until the marine mammals are 300 m away and heading away from you. The closest exit point doesn’t mean returning to the point you entered from.
Stay on the surface or shore until they’re more than 300 m away and heading away from you. You can then get in and continue your swim or snorkel.
Activities on the shore edge include activities like:
- gathering seafood whilst wading
- cooling off in the shallows
- surfcast fishing
- getting on and off water toys like wakeboarding, jet skis, kitesurfing, tubing from the shore, and
- getting in and out of watercraft like kayaks, paddleboards.
The restrictions that apply to swimming, apply to these activities also. No one is allowed in the water within 300 m of a marine mammal.
We know that the Bay of Islands has a long history of on water events. The marine mammal sanctuary is not designed to prevent these events from occurring.
These events can still occur if they’re designed in a way to lower impacts on marine mammals.
You need an exemption permit if:
- you’re planning to host an on water event in the Bay of Islands, and
- your event may breach the restrictions of the sanctuary.
Involve DOC early, to help make sure you meet all the requirements to hold your event.
Depending on the size, scope and potential impact of the event, a mitigation plan might be required.
Mitigation plans may need to include:
- detailed race plans, event scale and participant numbers
- establishment of a 600 m “safety zone” for the duration of the race that shall be maintained around the sound source (racecourse), for the protection of marine mammals. All vessels, except those actively racing, shall be halted when a marine mammal enters the 600 m safety zone and resume only after the animal has been gone from the safety zone for a minimum of 15 minutes. The safety zone must be in effect 30 minutes prior to race start
- a DOC approved marine mammal observer to conduct surveys before and during race events. Events only commence (delay start protocols) if no marine mammals have entered the 600 m safety zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to race start time, and
- competency requirement for all skippers and crew who are appointed in any role pertaining to the event.
Start the process to get an exemption permit by contacting the Bay of Islands office.
Pursuant to section 22 of the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, the Minister of Conservation gives the following notice, and the Minister of Energy and Resources, and the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries consent to the declaration in clause 4.