New Zealand Marine Reserve Management

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Background Information

Map of New Zealand's Marine Area

Importance of Marine Reserves

Oceans around the world are heavily used. Evidence shows that human activities are altering ocean ecosystems beyond their natural range of variability. Countless research shows that habitats, fish, shellfish and other species are declining in many places[1]. The changes are impairing the ocean’s capacity to provide food, protect livelihoods, maintain water quality and recover from environmental stress. These and other benefits depend on healthy ecosystems. This is where management tools such as marine reserves come into effect. Marine reserves are fully protected areas of ocean and/or intertidal habitats where activities that remove animals and alter habitats – i.e. fishing, aquaculture, dredging, and mining – are prohibited except as needed for scientific monitoring. Protection in reserves can range from completely restricted access to permissible activities such as swimming, boating, and scuba diving. Marine Reserves are implemented as permanent protection mechanisms rather than seasonal or short-term. Because marine reserves protect habitats and the animals and seaweeds that live in those habitats, they are a form of ecosystem protection that produces different outcomes from other management tools. Benefits of reserves occur both inside and outside of their boundaries, but reserves are only effective if protection is enforced.

History of Marine Reserves in New Zealand

New Zealand is surrounded by biologically rich seas. The country’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) is 4 million square kilometres – more than 15 times larger than its land area. A high proportion of New Zealand’s marine species – 15,000 identified as of 2007 – are not found anywhere else [2].

The New Zealand territorial sea has been divided into 13 regions. Four of the 13 biogeographic regions do not have any marine reserves: Three Kings Island, West Coast South Island, Snares Islands, and Chatham Islands. Seven of the 13 have at least one marine reserve, but no more than 0.4% of the region is protected. And finally, two of the 13 have significant protection: the Kermadec Islands biogeographic region has 100% and the Subantarctic Island region is 41.9% protected.


The Marine Reserves Act 1971 is the most comprehensive form of protection for the marine environment available in New Zealand, as all species and habitats are protected within its boundaries, and a wide range of human activities and impacts can be managed. Other protection mechanisms that are able to manage a smaller range of impacts include: Resource Management Act 1991,Fisheries Act 1996,Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 and Shipping Regulations.

State of the Environment Indicators

Percentage of New Zealand's territorial sea in both mainland and offshore Marine Reserves

Because it is impossible to examine every aspect of New Zealand's marine reserve management, we have established four indicators which encompass the bulk of available information. The first two indicators, Marine Areas with Legal Protection and Protection by Biogeographic Region, are designed to examine marine reserves from a broad scale perspective. The indicators point out any major gaps in protection. The other two indicators, Population Recovery of Snapper and Lobster and Change in Kelp Coverage, are designed to look at the success of marine reserves at an individual scale. The two indicators examine key parts of marine ecosystems which are degraded by fishing and determines the extent of their recovery due to the marine reserve.

Marine Areas with Legal Protection

Marine Areas with Legal Protection is an indicator that is used by the Ministry for the Environment in their State of Environment Reporting. At first, it would appear that this would be a terrible indicator for protection because it is merely just a total amount of area that is protected. However, once you start looking at this indicator the sheer gap in marine protection compared to land protection is remarkably apparent. If you add up the area protected by all of New Zealand's marine reserves, it is equal to the area protected by Fiordland National Park. In a country in which over 30% of its land is set aside for conservation, there is a huge disconnect when it comes to marine conservation.

Protection by Biogeographic Region

The Department of Conservation has divided the marine environment of New Zealand's territorial sea into thirteen unique biogeographic regions. Of these thirteen, only two have significant protection, Kermadec Islands (100%) and Subantarctic Islands (42%). Seven have 1% or less protected by marine reserves. Four regions have no protection at all, Chatham Islands, Snares Islands, Three Kings, and West Coast South Island. So of the 6.9% of New Zealands territorial sea which is protected, 97% of that is in offshore islands, while only 3% is around New Zealands three main islands, North, South, and Stewart.

Population Recovery of Snapper and Lobster Species

This indicator was used because most of the scientific research on the ecological benefits have focused on these two species so it has the most readily available information [3]. The population recovery of snapper and lobster is also a useful indicator because they are species which are directly affected by fishing. The expectation for this indicator is that the populations will see recovery once they are no longer fished. However, the collected data has not been as conclusive. At Cape Rodney-Okakari Point, Te Whanganui-a-Hei, Long Island-Kokomohua, Piopiotahi, Te Awaatu, and Te Tapuwae o Rongokako there have been significant increases in both the sizes and abundances of lobster and snapper. At Te Angiangi and Tonga the number and size of lobsters has increased, but the fish number and size have remained unchanged.[4]

Change in Kelp Coverage

In the 1970's, the region now known as the Leigh Marine Reserve, the seafloor here was barren. Grazing sea urchins had destroyed the kelp forests which is a habitat preferred by many marine organisms. The Kelp coverage can be used as in environmental indicator as it shows how prohibiting fishing can assist in the replenishment of natural marine habitats. And thus, the increase in population size of those species that were directly affected by the barren sea floor environment.

Social Indicators

Social Impacts and Public Opinions of Marine Reserves

We noted that there is a lack of longitudinal studies examining community responses towards marine reserves in New Zealand. There also appears to be a lack of documentation investigating the social and economic impacts of each marine reserve on local communities (Taylor & Buckenham, 2003). The best way to derive this information would be through surveying local home owners and businesses.

General trends indicate that when no-take marine reserves are first proposed, there is a degree of opposition from various community groups, including recreation/commercial fishers and Maori groups. Once a marine reserve is established, support increases as communities are able to see ecological, recreational, educational and economic benefits. In particular, benefits from tourism can be a significant factor in increasing public support for marine reserves. In 2003, it was identified that basic information about public use of marine reserves is hard to obtain, and systems for monitoring visitor numbers need to be established, backed up by regular visitor numbers (Taylor & Buckenham, 2003).

Case study: Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve Officially gazetted in May 1992, Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve is located on the coastline of the Coromandel Peninsula near the townships of Hahei and Cooks Beach, which are popular with holiday home owners and visitors during the summer period.

In recognition that overfishing and other ecological disturbances were impacting marine and coastal environments, DOC (the Waikato Conservancy) decided to establish a marine reserve in the Coromandel Peninsula region.

In the establishment process, it is important that socioeconomic factors as well as ecological factors were taken into consideration in the selection of the site of the marine reserve. After the marine reserve was formally gazetted in 1992, local residents continued to object to the establishment of the reserve, and a ministerial review was called. In 1993, the Regulatory Review Committee of Parliament concluded that "a substantial proportion of the local community had not been adequately consulted" even though the review found that statuary process had been followed. Consequently, "Doc was instructed to monitor community attitudes toward the marine reserve as a basis for identifying and mitigating adverse social effects" (Cocklin et al. ).

In the community surveys, respondents were asked to describe whether the marine reserve had a 'positive, negative, or no discernible effect upon the community'. In both samples, a greater proportion of respondents assessed that the effect of the reserve had been positive rather than negative for the community.

 The most frequently perceived positive impacts:
 enhanced protection and increased respect for the environment. 
 Negative impacts recorded: restricted fishing and polarization of the community.
 Most likely to report negative effects: 
 permanent residents; respondents over age 50, and long-term property owners (over 15 years) 
 Increased tourism generated an even split as to whether it was a positive or negative  
 impact on the community.

On Māori Cultural Considerations


Rahui pole, marking Te Tapuae o Rongokako Marine Reserve; it was erected by Ngati Konohi for the opening of the reserve in November 1999[5]

In 2003, Taylor & Buckenham noted that there has not been a specific study on Māori attitudes towards marine reserves. Ten years later, this is still an area that warrants research. Indicators indicating Māori attitudes towards specific aspects of marine reserves would help inform management and conservation decisions. The available information suggests that attitudes towards marine reserves differ amongst Māori.

An issue that has been identified is the lack of reference to the Treaty of Waitangi in the Marine Reserves Act (Parliamentary Commisioner, 1999). Many iwi and hapü are fundamentally opposed to the no-take marine reserve model, as tangata whenua (people of the land) are prohibited from access to sites and natural resources within their rohe moana (Taylor & Buckenham, 2003)[6].

Māori have a traditional means of marine protection through rahu (prohibition on collecting fish/food) and tapu (sacred). Under Customary Fishing regulations under the Fisheries Act (1996), the establishment of a mataitai reserve can protect the traditional fishing grounds of special significance to tangata whenua. Similarly, the Fisheries Act (1996) makes provisions for the establishment of a taiapure (local customary fishing) through an Order in Council (Taylor & Buckenham, 2003). The processes of establishing a mataitai reserve and taiapure can be complex and lengthy, as consultations between different stakeholders such local communities and commercial and recreation fishers are required. Management restrictions in a mataitai and the regulations for the conservation of fish and other marine life in a taipure apply to Māori and non-Māori (Taylor & Buckenham, 2003).

In light of these provisions under other legislation, some iwi and hapü assert that they will not support a marine reserve in their area unless a mataitai or taiapure proposal is integrated with it. In April 2013, the approval of a 475 hectare marine reserve around Dan Rogers Bluff, near Christchurch, recently highlighted the respond pressure of taking into consideration Māori cultural customary rights when establishing marine reserves. Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell stated "Our strong view ... is that we must also ensure cultural interests in the area are protected ... Conservation practices are embedded within our culture and tangata whenua have successfully managed to balance the 'use' and 'protection' of fisheries resources for many generations."[[7]]

In other places, iwi or hapü have been closely involved with marine reserve proposals. This was the case between Ngäti Konohi of Ngäti Porou and DOC who submitted a joint application for Te Tapuwae o Rongokako marine reserve (Taylor & Buckenham, 2003). "The boundaries of this marine reserve have been drawn to exclude tauranga ika or traditional fishing grounds(Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1999)[8]. The management board consists of nine members who form the Committee from the following groups:

   Ngäti Konohi (5)
   Commercial fishers (1)
   Recreational fishers (1)
   Forest and Bird (1)
   East Coast Bay of Plenty Conservation Board (1)

Management Methods

The Biodiversity Monitoring and Reporting System

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is progressively adopting its Biodiversity Monitoring and Reporting System. As opposed to focusing biodiversity inventory and monitoring on a local scale, this approach on the other hand, emphasizes biodiversity monitoring that is consistent, cohesive and systematic on a national level. According to DOC's factsheet [9], this allows for "information that is collected to be built into a national picture and used in multiple ways, including allowing DOC to report on overall losses and gains in biodiversity". At this stage, it is unclear to us how the monitoring and reporting of marine reserves will be undertaken, especially with the goal of 'national cohesion and consistency' that DOC has in mind.

The Biodiversity Monitoring and Reporting System will adopt a three-tiered approach, whereby each tier will operate at a different scale.

Tier 1: Broad scale monitoring for national context - "Broad scale, systematic monitoring of conservation land – and potentially the whole New Zealand landscape - for national context."

Tier 2: Monitoring the places and species that are managed - "Nationally-consistent monitoring of managed places and species on land, freshwater and in the ocean to report on management effectiveness." This tier involves a consistent and rigorous approach to monitoring 'outputs' (management results) and 'outcomes' (management achievements) of specific activities in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments.

Tier 3: Intensive monitoring for research purposes - "Intensive, targeted monitoring for research and evaluation" This tier involves monitoring that focuses on delivering the most detailed information, needed to improve DOC's ability to maintain, restore biodiversity in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. It involves a combination of intensive research and monitoring at a few key sites throughout New Zealand.

Outcome: The diversity of our natural heritage is maintained and restored.[10]

There are six objectives under this outcome.

   1. A full range of New Zealand’s ecosystems is conserved to a healthy functioning state;
   2. Nationally threatened species are conserved to ensure persistence;Commercial fishers (1)
   3. Nationally iconic natural features are maintained or restored;
   4. Nationally iconic species are managed to ensure their populations are maintained or restored;
   5. Locally treasured natural heritage is maintained or restored through partnerships;
   6. Public conservations lands, waters and species are held for now and future generations [11].

Within these objectives, DOC identifies conservation priorities. In regards to identifying marine conservation priorities, according to its factsheet [12], DOC has a number of projects that are assessing the ecological integrity of New Zealand's marine environment, monitoring change over time, and identifying ecologically and economically significant ecosystems that will inform future conservation management.

Biodiveristy Monitoring and Reporting System.jpg

Conclusions and Recommendations

Expand into the Exclusive Economic Zone

Using the indicators we have established, we were able to identify a number of issues with the state of marine reserve management in New Zealand: disconnect between terrestrial protection and marine protection and lack of available scientific information. New Zealand's marine territory is fifteen times larger than its terrestrial territory, and 80% of the New Zealand's biodiversity (15,000 species) is found in the sea. Despite New Zealand's apparent interest in conservation and the wealth of biodiversity in its waters, it has yet to significantly expand its protection attention to the marine environment. Just 6.9% of New Zealand's territorial sea is protected by marine reserves and only about 0.3% of its entire marine territory, compared to 30% of the terrestrial territory. New Zealand's marine environment is the fourth largest in the world, behind Australia, France, and the United States, and is home to some of New Zealand's most important natural resources. If these resources are not used sustainably then they will be gone in the future and New Zealand will be without important resources The other issue which we noticed was the lack of available data in regards to marine reserves. The Department of Conservation bragged about how they extensively monitor the status of all of their reserves, but they do not appear to have much publicly available information other than sweeping overviews. Another issue with the scientific research is that a majority of the marine reserves were not monitored before they became marine reserves so it is difficult to determine the success of the marine reserve without comparing it to prior monitoring. The available data made it clear that the marine ecosystem and recovery of habitats are contingent on a variety of environmental factors which we do not fully understand. The view that nature is linear and species recovery is guaranteed if human removal is stopped or reduced is not an adequate understanding of marine ecosystems. There must be a better connect between New Zealand's conservation goals, science, reserve managers, policy makers, and the public.


Cocklin C, Craw M, Mcauley I. 1998. Marine reserves in New Zealand: Use rights, public attitudes, and social impacts. Coastal Management 26: 213-231

Kelly S, Scott D, MacDiarmid A.B, Babcock R.C. 2000. Spiny Lobster Jasus edwardsii, recovery in New Zealand marine reserves. Biological Conservation 93 (3): 359-369 [13].

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. 1999. Setting Course for a Sustainable Future. Wellington: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. [14]

Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans. 2011. The Science of Marine Reserves (2nd Edition, Europe). [15]. 22 pages.

Taylor & Buckenham. 2003. Social impacts of marine reserves in New Zealand. Science for Conservation. Department of Conservation. Wellington. New Zealand.

External Links

Marine Reserves Act 1971

Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978

Fisheries Act 1996

Resource Management Act 1991

Leigh Marine Reserve Case Study

State of the Environment Reporting