About the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary

This page has information on the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.


The proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (the sanctuary) will be created in the Kermadec region of the South Pacific Ocean about 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand. 

At 620,000 square kilometres, it will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully protected areas. It will be 35 times larger than the combined area of New Zealand’s existing 44 marine reserves. The sanctuary will mean 15 percent of New Zealand’s ocean environment will be fully protected. 

The sanctuary will cover an area of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the five Kermadec Islands of Raoul, Macauley, Cheeseman, Curtis and L’Esperance which lie halfway between the Bay of Plenty and Tonga. It will be the first time an area of our EEZ has been fully protected. 

The Government has introduced legislation to Parliament to enact the new sanctuary. To find out more about the sanctuary see About the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill.

The sanctuary follows the establishment in 1990 of the Kermadec Marine Reserve which consists of 7500 square kilometres. The marine reserve extends 12 nautical miles from the cliffs and boulder beaches of the various Kermadec Islands and rocks, out to the edge of the territorial sea.  

Map showing location
of the sanctuary

Map showing the location of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary
Click image to enlarge

The Kermadec ocean environment

The Kermadec area is one of the most pristine and unique places on earth. It includes the world’s longest chain of underwater volcanoes and the world’s second deepest ocean trench at over 10 kilometres – deeper than Mount Everest is tall. 

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 sea turtles – all endangered 
  • many other marine species unique to this area such as corals, shellfish and crabs. 

Importance of protecting the Kermadec ocean environment

We are faced with increasing fishing, seabed mining and pollution across the world’s oceans. It is therefore important to protect our remaining pristine ocean environments and ecosystems.

As well as being home to many unique habitats and ecosystems the region provides an important migration path for species crossing the Pacific.

What the sanctuary means

The following activities will be prohibited in the sanctuary:     

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

This is similar to prohibitions in place in marine reserves in our territorial sea.

Rights in the sanctuary compared with the Kermadec Marine Reserve 

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

Rights and limitations are:

  • no fishing or mining applies to both the sanctuary and marine reserve
  • ships will be allowed to exchange ballast water in the sanctuary (subject to regulation) but not in the marine reserve 
  • marine discharges from ships and yachts (subject to regulation) will be allowed in the sanctuary but not in the marine reserve 
  • submarine cables will be allowed in the sanctuary but are not permitted in the marine reserve.

Responsibilities for the sanctuary

The responsibilities of government agencies are as follows.

  • The Department of Conservation, which is responsible for managing nature and marine reserves, will administer the Act which will create the sanctuary. 
  • The Environmental Protection Authority, which implements the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act), will be responsible for any permitting of activities (eg, scientific research). 
  • The Defence Force and the Ministry of Primary Industries will assist in enforcement of the Act which creates the new sanctuary. 
  • Maritime New Zealand is responsible for managing discharges from ships.

Changes to the current regulatory framework in the Kermadecs area

Marine reserve

All fishing and mining is prohibited in the marine reserve (the territorial sea out to 12 nautical miles around the Kermadec Islands). This is unchanged by the sanctuary.

The sanctuary

Currently the 620,000 square kilometre area where the sanctuary will be created is a benthic protection area (BPA). This was put in place in 2007 under the Fisheries Act 1996 and prohibits bottom trawling and dredging. The area is also subject to the EEZ Act and the Crown Minerals Act 1991. This means any applications for prospecting, exploration or mining are subject to these laws.  

When the sanctuary is created, all fishing, prospecting, exploration and mining activities will be prohibited. 

How the sanctuary compares with other countries’ marine protected areas 

The sanctuary will be the largest contiguous area of ocean in which all fishing will be prohibited.

Last year the United States announced the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which consists of seven areas totalling 1,058,848 square kilometres. None of the seven areas are as large as the sanctuary. Some have provision for limited customary and recreational fishing.

The United Kingdom has announced an 834,334 square kilometre marine protected area around Pitcairn Island. This is larger than the sanctuary. It has been proposed that an area be set aside for customary fishing.

A 720,000 square kilometre marine park around Easter Island in Chile is being discussed. The proposal would allow fishing by the local population.

Australia announced in 2012 the 989,842 square kilometre Coral Sea Marine Reserve. Around 51 percent of the reserve will be zoned as a marine national park which is a ‘no-take’ zone. The remaining zoned areas will have other levels of protection.

The category of protection intended for the sanctuary

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

This is the highest category of protection. Impacts of human activities and access will be strictly managed to protect the ecological integrity of the area.

Links with our international marine protection obligations

New Zealand is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This means we have obligations to protect and preserve our marine environment.

Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, we have committed to having 10 percent of our coastal and marine areas conserved by 2020. The sanctuary contributes to this target.

Current fishing in the Kermadecs area and its economic value

The Kermadecs area is one of 10 New Zealand fisheries management areas and is known as FMA10. A total of about 20 tonnes of fish are caught there every year with a value of about $165,000. The species caught are highly migratory and include swordfish (11 tonnes), bigeye and albacore tuna (three tonnes) and blue shark (2.8 tonnes). 

The quota for these highly migratory species is for New Zealand’s entire EEZ and is not specific to FMA10. As the catch can be caught in other parts of New Zealand’s EEZ fishing interests will not be significantly impacted by the establishment of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary and the minerals sector

As all mining, exploration and prospecting activities will be prohibited in the sanctuary, there will be an opportunity cost for New Zealand but this is difficult to quantify. The logistics of mining in these very deep, remote waters is difficult and expensive.

Find out more

Prime Minister's media release: PM announces Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary 
Minister for the Environment's media release: Kermadec sanctuary a global contribution to ocean protection 
Cabinet paper: Establishment of a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary