About the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary

This page has an overview of the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

The proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (the sanctuary) was introduced by the 2016 Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill. The bill awaits its second reading. 

The proposed sanctuary is situated in the South Pacific Ocean about 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand. At 620,000 square kilometres it would be 35 times larger than the combined area of New Zealand’s existing 44 marine reserves. It would bring the area of our marine environment that has full protection to 15 per cent. 

The area is already partially protected in the form of the Kermadec Marine Reserve and benthic protected areas (BPAs). The current reserve, an area of 7500 square kilometres, extends 12 nautical miles from the cliffs and beaches of the various Kermadec Islands and rocks. BPAs that extend beyond the 12 nautical miles provide protection from trawling and dredging, however the area above the seafloor is not protected.

The Kermadec ocean environment

The Kermadec area is unique and one of the most pristine environments on earth. It includes the world’s longest chain of underwater volcanoes and the world’s second deepest ocean trench at over 10 kilometres. 

Its waters are home to:

  • over six million seabirds of 39 different species
  • over 150 species of fish
  • 35 species of whales and dolphins
  • three species of endangered sea turtles
  • many other marine species unique to this area such as corals, shellfish and crabs.

As well as the unique habitats and ecosystems, the region provides an important migration path for species crossing the Pacific.

We face increasing threats from climate change and human activities across the world’s oceans. It is important we protect our remaining pristine environments and ecosystems.

What the sanctuary means

Under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected areas classification system, the sanctuary would be classified as category I – a strict nature reserve/wilderness area.

In these areas, impacts of human activities are strictly managed to protect the ecological integrity of the area.

The bill proposes the following activities to be prohibited:

  • commercial fishing and aquaculture
  • recreational fishing
  • fishing-related tourism
  • oil, gas and mineral prospecting, exploration and mining.

This list is similar to the prohibitions in place in marine reserves which are situated in our territorial sea and out to 12 nautical miles from land.

New Zealand has sovereign rights in its territorial sea with very few limitations. Our rights and obligations in our EEZ, which extends beyond the 12 nautical miles of a territorial sea, are different but include the rights to manage fishing and minerals resources. Other rights (eg, over navigation and submarine cables) must be exercised with due regard for those of other states.

In contrast to a marine reserve, the sanctuary would provide for the following activities (subject to regulation):

  • ships will be allowed to exchange ballast water in the sanctuary 
  • marine discharges from ships and yachts will be allowed 
  • submarine cables will be allowed.

Status of the bill

The bill will continue its progression through the House once litigation on the bill has been resolved and a way forward is agreed with parties.