View all publications

Society's responses to pressures on our water environment

The first rules for water use were developed by Māori communities to prevent spiritual and physical pollution of food-gathering areas. The rules were often elaborate and varied from place to place. Concern about both forms of pollution is still important to Māori and was highlighted in the 1970s and early 1980s in a number of successful actions to stop sewage being discharged near traditional fishing and food-collecting areas.

In the first century of European settlement, miners, farmers and townspeople alike were more concerned with controlling the quantities of water than with worrying about its quality. Early water legislation included the Gold Fields Act 1862, which dealt with water use for alluvial gold mining, the Canterbury Rivers Act 1868, which was the first of many dealing with flood control, and the Drainage Act 1906, which concerned wetland drainage for agricultural purposes. Other concerns were ensuring adequate supplies of drinking water, obtaining irrigation water and identifying sites for hydro-electric development.

By the 1950s, however, the effects of sewage, industrial discharges and agricultural runoff were becoming all too visible in many rivers and streams. In the following decades of growing environmental awareness, concern about water quality became widespread. Today, it is an important element of our environmental legislation.

Water management responsibilities

Over the past fifty years, New Zealand has developed more and more coherent responses to water management. The Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 established a national system of 21 regional catchment authorities with responsibilities for controlling flooding, soil and riverbank erosion (Poole 1983; Roche 1994). These authorities worked with local landowners and communities to provide protection measures. Initially the measures dealt with localised problem sites, but eventually they began to extend to whole catchments. The catchment authorities received assistance in the form of technical support and funding subsidies from central government with oversight from a national board.

Figure 7.22: Historical rates of erosion and accretion around the New Zealand coast.

Most of the New Zealand coastline is static. 20% of the coastline is estimated to be eroding particularly in areas of exposed beaches such as the west and east coasts of the South Island. Around 15% is accreting (extending into the sea) particularly around river mouths all around the coastline.

Source: Ministry for the Environment (1990) after Gibb (1984)

The Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967 extended the management role of catchment authorities to cover both the quantity and quality of water. For this role they were referred to as regional water boards. Scientific and technical support came from central government, including the establishment of specialist water and soil science research units. Water was managed on a multiple use basis and anyone wanting to take water from a natural body of water or discharge pollutants into it had to apply for a water right. Rights were generally granted by the regional water boards but large rights sought by the Crown were decided by the national body, the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority. The 1967 Act contributed to the dramatic decline in BOD5 pollution from point source discharges but did little to assist with the problem of non point source pollution because it did not provide for statutory plans or the ability to constrain land uses to protect water quality or quantity.

In 1991, many of the existing water management laws were superseded by the Resource Management Act which made regional councils responsible for the sustainable management of natural and physical resources within their catchment boundaries, including surface water, groundwater, geothermal water, coastal water, and also land and air. The councils are required to maintain water quality and supply, both for human purposes and to sustain fish habitat, ecosystems and other intrinsically or culturally valuable features.

The Act requires regional councils to set out their overarching water management policies in Regional Policy Statements - statutory documents that aim to achieve integrated management of a region's natural and physical resources. The Council may also devise statutory plans for water with more detailed policies and rules where this is considered to be an effective way to deal with recurrent or significant issues.

Under the Act most activities on the beds of lakes and rivers, and the seabed, as well as most draw-offs of water and all discharges of wastes into water must have a resource consent from the relevant regional council or unitary authority, or be authorised (with certain conditions) by a rule in a regional plan. The only exceptions are: consumption of water by livestock; draw-offs for household use and for fire fighting; and the customary Māori use of geothermal water. The authorities also have some power to prescribe land use rules to limit pasture run-off and non-point source pollution, though most prefer to achieve these goals through informal advice and services.

Along with the decentralisation of water management has come the removal of government financial assistance for many activities which affect water supply and use. Agricultural subsidies were abolished (leading to a decline in sheep numbers and the reafforestation of some erodible hill areas) and grants, tax exemptions and subsidies were also ended for stock water supply, irrigation and drainage projects, and flood control and soil conservation programmes.

While the key management responsibilities are now vested in regional authorities, central government still plays a variety of roles in water management. For instance, the main priorities in coastal water management are established through the national Coastal Policy Statement which is issued by the Minister of Conservation (1994). This Statement guides regional authorities in the development of their coastal plans. These plans determine which activities in coastal waters are permitted and which need a coastal permit (see Box 7.13).

The Government also has responsibility for publishing national water quality guidelines and standards. To date, the Ministry for the Environment (1992,1994) has produced guidelines for undesirable biological growths and for water colour and clarity, and the Department of Health (1992) has produced guidelines for microbial water quality. National guidelines are not yet available on other aspects of water quality, such as contaminated sediments, environmental flows, in-stream habitat protection, riparian vegetation and agricultural pollution (Hart et al., 1995). Other central government responsibilities in managing the water environment, include:

  • the management of water in parks, reserves and other protected land and marine areas by the Conservation Department;
  • the issuing of Water Conservation Orders by the Minister for the Environment to protect outstanding water bodies from harmful activities;
  • the monitoring of drinking water supplies by the Ministry of Health and local authorities;
  • the monitoring of toxic algae in coastal waters by the Ministries of Agriculture and Health;
  • the management of commercial fisheries by the Minister of Fisheries in a way which sustains the aquatic environment and protects significant fishery habitat;
  • the management of non-commercial freshwater fisheries by the Department of Conservation and Fish and Game Councils;
  • the management of marine pollution, particularly large oil spills and those beyond the 12 nautical mile territorial boundary, by the Maritime Safety Authority; and
  • the funding of research and development projects to improve water and soil management through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FfRST) and various government departments. Industry and land user groups have also become increasingly active in promoting codes of practice for managing erosion and waste water disposal (e.g. Forest Owners Association, farmers' landcare groups, Pork Industry Board) and monitoring the marine environment (e.g. Fishing Industry Board).
Box 7.13: Water and the Resource Management Act 1991

Although the Crown does not own water, it has the sole right to use water throughout New Zealand and up to 12 nautical miles offshore under section 354 of the Resource Management Act. Section 14 of the Act provides that anyone seeking to use water must be authorised by a resource consent from the regional authority or by a rule in a regional plan. Not all uses are restricted. Consents are not required for:

  • individuals' domestic needs;
  • livestock watering;
  • firefighting; and
  • geothermal water for uses consistent with Māori custom.

Section 15 of the Act requires that discharges of contaminants must be authorised by a resource consent, a rule or regulations. Minimum water quality standards outlined in section 107 prohibit, after reasonable mixing:

  • conspicuous oil or grease scums, foams;
  • conspicuous floatable or suspended material;
  • conspicuous change in colour or visual clarity;
  • objectionable odours;
  • fresh water unsuitable for stock; and
  • significant adverse effects on aquatic life.

The Resource Management Act has a special focus on coastal management. The Act requires regional councils to prepare regional coastal plans and requires the Minister of Conservation to produce a New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS). Regional plans must not be inconsistent with the NZCPS. The latter was gazetted in May 1994 and sets out specific policies on:

  • preservation of natural character from subdivision, use and development;
  • protection of characteristics of special value to Māori;
  • provision for appropriate activities;
  • recognition of natural hazards;
  • public access to and along the coast;
  • the Crown's interests in Crown owned coastal land;
  • water quality management;
  • sewage discharges (the policy statement discourages coastal discharges in favour of land disposal options);
  • waste disposal from and maintenance of vessels; and
  • restricted coastal activities (i.e. those requiring Ministerial approval on resource consent applications).

Outright protection is primarily the province of other acts (e.g. the Marine Reserves Act, the Reserves Act, the National Parks Act, and the Conservation Act) but some protection under the Resource Management Act can be achieved through policies and rules in a district plan (section 76), or a Water Conservation Order (sections 199 to 217). All decisions made under the Resource Management Act must, as a matter of national importance, recognise and provide for the preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and their margins.

Responses to pressures on water

Pasture run-off and flooding

Responses to flooding have traditionally focused on forests on steep public land and on controlling and containing flood-prone rivers with channels, stopbanks, and land drainage. Now attention is also focusing on the need to retain and reinstate tree cover (exotic or native) on steep pasture land and river banks. In one very erodible and flood-prone area, the north east of the North Island, the Government is subsidising exotic forest planting through the East Coast Forestry Scheme (see Chapter 8).

Some councils are developing rules through regional plans to help reduce the effects of forest and scrub removal on soil and water, and also, in some cases, the effects of reafforestation on surface water supplies (e.g. resource management plans for the Tarawera River in the Bay of Plenty and the Moutere Plain in the Tasman District). A side-effect of the economic restructuring of the past decade was a decrease in marginal pasture farming. This has been followed by a recent upsurge in forest planting.


Water shortages for agriculture are no longer alleviated by large-scale Government-subsidised irrigation schemes. All existing schemes are now privately or cooperatively owned. New schemes are comparatively small scale. Since 1964, water abstraction has required the approval of the local regional waterboard. Under the Resource Management Act, a resource consent must be obtained from the regional council or unitary authority.

Agricultural pollution

Non-point sources of agricultural pollution are broadly affected by the amount of treeless land on a farm and the amount of animal excrement . Formulating a policy response has been difficult because of the diffuse nature of the problem. Responses to date have had a research and advisory focus rather than a regulatory focus. Land use practices that exacerbate farm run-off have been identified and many regional councils advise land owners on methods of managing soil erosion and nutrient and waste run-off. Publications such as the Riparian Management Guidelines (Department of Conservation/NIWA, 1995) provide relevant scientific information and advice. Both the Ministry of Agriculture's Sustainable Agriculture Facilitation Programme and the Ministry for the Environment's Sustainable Management Fund provide funds for on-farm programmes to assess and help manage environmental effects of agriculture.

Point sources of pollution from agriculture are mostly from the processing of pastoral products and the discharge of farmyard effluent. BOD5loadings from these sources were significantly reduced in the 1970s and further reductions probably occurred in the 1980s as economic restructuring saw the closure of some processing facilities.

By 1993, only 15 of the country's 49 meatworks, and 15 of the 32 dairy factories discharged some or all their wastewater directly to rivers (Smith et al., 1993). A sizeable number of meatworks, dairy processing factories and casein plants now dispose of some or all of their effluent onto land. The treatment of farm effluent from dairy sheds and piggeries has also improved with increasing use of land disposal and constructed wetlands. Many regional councils now encourage farmers to dispose of effluent onto land and to also manage the environmental effects.

Many resource user groups have also developed their own programmes or guidelines to manage the impacts of their activities on the environment. Some examples include Federated Farmers' promotion of cooperative farmers' landcare groups and the development of guidelines for sustainable agriculture, and the Pork Industry Board's code of practice for sustainable management. The New Zealand Forest Owners Association has developed a voluntary code of practice for forestry, which includes principles for reducing the impact of forestry operations on soil and water.

Urban consumption

In the past, the usual response to urban water scarcity has been to expand dam and reservoir capacity and draw more water from rivers and aquifers. Now several authorities are also attempting to limit consumption by promoting water conservation techniques, installing water meters, charging for water on a user-pays basis rather than a rates basis, and imposing summertime restrictions on garden watering. Wellington City Council, for example, has installed user-pays water meters at about one-third of the city's business premises and will install meters at the remainder over the next three years.

The council is also trialing user-pays in the suburbs with some householders being given the option of a water meter system. Most interest has come from those in higher value homes. They are the ones who stand to save money under a user-pays regime because, under the present rates-based system, payments are based on the capital value of the property rather than the household's actual water use. The council has also decided to make meters compulsory for home-owners with fixed irrigation systems, and for those with swimming and spa pools over 10 cubic metres.

The Ministry of Health's 1995 review of drinking water quality and management, and publication of new standards and guidelines on water management and monitoring have led to improved monitoring and some attempts to upgrade unsatisfactory systems.

Sewage and stormwater

From having almost no sewage treatment systems 50 years ago, New Zealand now has very few untreated systems. Wellington and Hutt City are the last major centres to make the conversion, and only a few small communities have yet to do so. An informal survey of sewage disposal methods in 1991 found that two thirds of the local authorities surveyed were reviewing or upgrading their systems (Shields, 1991).

Land disposal and disposal into constructed wetlands are becoming increasingly favoured options for sewage. In situations where land disposal is not feasible, some local authorities are planning and building more sophisticated treatment systems to provide better quality effluent. For example, the Kapiti Coast District Council (north of Wellington) has recently installed ultraviolet (UV) treatment to kill bacteria before effluent is discharged to a local waterway.

Stormwater management is controlled by local authorities through the provision of drains and through controls on new land use activities. Because of its diffuse nature, stormwater is difficult to manage and varies with location and land use. Vegetation changes, new buildings, new paving or roading and new excavation works can significantly change the flow and quality of stormwater. Blockage and leakage in drainage systems can lead to flooding or contamination and are major concerns for many authorities. Progressive local authorities are now retrofitting stormwater treatment systems into retail/industrial areas (for example, in Rotorua) and new residential areas (for example, in Ohope).


Responses to dam pressures on river flows and fish migration are dealt with by regional councils when deciding whether to issue consents for new dams. Nearly all resource consents for dam construction require residual flows to be maintained to protect aquatic life, and many also require fish passes to be built to allow the migration of fish. Regulatory authority for fish passage issues lies with the Department of Conservation. A number of dam proposals are being considered around the country. Hydro dams built prior to the Resource Management Act are generally governed by operating rules which set limits on maximum and minimum flows. The Electricity Corporation of New Zealand, which operates most of the hydro dams, has also sponsored research on ways to ensure fish passage through its dams.

Pests and weeds

Laws controlling the introduction of new aquatic organisms to New Zealand include the Bio-security Act 1993 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. Proposals to import new species or to genetically modify existing species are generally subjected to a 'comparative risk assessment' before approvals are given. Freshwater pests and weeds are primarily the responsibility of regional councils, the Minister of Lands, and, within protected areas, the Department of Conservation.

Control of marine pests and weeds is very difficult because of the many ways in which they can enter the country. Only toxic algal blooms are routinely monitored. From 1993 until 31 October 1996, a monitoring programme for marine biotoxins was run by the New Zealand Marine Biotoxin Management Board (made up of representatives of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the New Zealand Fishing Industry Board). The programme sampled shellfish weekly at an average of 120 coastal sites and cost about $3.2 million in the 1995/96 financial year. From 1 November 1996, separate commercial and public health (non-commercial) monitoring programmes were set up although data from both programmes will continue to be shared. The commercial programme is overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and the public health programme by the Ministry of Health. The public health programme is introducing phytoplankton sampling as a partial replacement for testing of shellfish flesh where appropriate following a review of the shellfish testing data gathered to date.

Systematic national monitoring for other marine invaders has not yet been developed. Ships entering New Zealand territorial waters are not subject to any regulations on ballast water but are expected to comply with a voluntary Code of Practice which limits discharges in and near harbours. The percentage of vessels claiming to comply with the voluntary ballast controls is 'in excess of 98 percent', though the Ministry of Fisheries acknowledges that the true figure may be slightly lower (Alexander, 1995). If regulations are considered necessary, these could be imposed under provisions in the Biosecurity Act which empower inspectors to search vessels containing 'risk goods', and compels ship masters to obey all reasonable directions and information requests from inspectors regarding 'risk goods'.

Marine pollution

There are two major international agreements on marine pollution-the London Convention 1972, which sets minimum standards for the dumping and incineration of wastes at sea, and the MARPOL Convention 1973 which, together with its 1978 Protocol, specifies controls on the discharge of oil and oily mixtures, noxious liquid substances, sewage and garbage. For these conventions to be ratified, they must be incorporated into New Zealand law. At present the London Convention has been ratified, but regulations to ratify MARPOL are still being developed.

Recent amendments to the Resource Management Act have strengthened existing controls on pollution from ships and offshore installations. The dumping of wastes or other matter now requires a consent from the regional council and cannot be permitted by a general rule in a regional coastal plan. The regulations to implement MARPOL will be imposed under two different laws. Within the 12 nautical mile zone the regulations will be issued by the Minister for the Environment under the Resource Management Act and enforced by regional councils. Beyond this zone, they will be issued under the Maritime Transport Act and enforced by the Maritime Safety Authority.

Voluntary responses to coastal water quality problems are becoming increasingly important. Local community beachcare groups which deal with issues such as coastal erosion and the re-establishment of native coastal vegetation, are now established in many coastal communities in the North Island.

The Protection of Natural Waterways

Protection of natural waterways is a shared legal responsibility of the Department of Conservation and the regional councils. The Department is responsible for managing natural waterways in national parks and reserves, collaborating with councils on coastal management, managing native freshwater fish populations and their habitats, and advocating protection for significant waterways which are not on conservation land.

Waterways on conservation land are legally protected from direct interference, but may be vulnerable to outside pressures, such as water removal for irrigation or livestock use, drainage and flood control projects, effluent and nutrients from sewage, stormwater or pastoral runoff, dams and other barriers to water or fish movement (e.g. tide and flood gates), and invasion by exotic plants and livestock from surrounding lands. Managing these pressures requires cooperation between the Department, the councils and the surrounding land and water users.

Waterways that are not on conservation land can be protected by regional and district councils through rules in plans which prohibit damaging activities. Such activities are only permitted subject to a resource consent whose special conditions limit the activities. Section 6(a) of the Resource Management Act requires the councils to recognise and provide for the preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment, wetlands, lakes, rivers and their margins. Most councils now require resource consents for water abstractions, drainage and flood control, point source discharges of effluent, and the damming or obstruction of water movement. However, the more pervasive pressures from livestock, stormwater, pasture runoff and invasive weeds are more difficult to control without voluntary efforts by land and water users. Where appropriate, the Act also allows the Minister for the Environment to impose Water Conservation Orders and Heritage Protection Orders on water bodies which are not on conservation land, but which are of outstanding environmental or cultural significance.

Rivers and lakes

In 1969, the desire to preserve natural waterways led to a huge public campaign to protect Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau from hydroelectric development-the first truly national environmental campaign. A quarter of a million people signed a petition which helped persuade the government to limit the extent to which the lakes could be artificially raised (Peat, 1994). A similar campaign to prevent the flooding of the Cromwell Gorge for the construction of the Clyde dam was less successful.

Nevertheless, the public's strong desire to protect wild and scenic rivers and lakes culminated in the 1981 'Wild Rivers' amendment to the Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967, establishing Water Conservation Orders as a means of protecting water bodies. This provision is now contained in the Resource Management Act 1991. To qualify, a lake or river must have outstanding amenity values (e.g. fishing, scenery, canoeing) or intrinsic values (e.g. special ecosystems or species). To date, eight Water Conservation Orders have been granted under the 1967 Act, covering less than 1 percent of New Zealand's river and lake area. None have been granted as yet under the Resource Management Act , but a number are pending (Table 7.13).

Table 7.13: Current Water Conservation Orders and those under consideration.
Water Body Outstanding Features Year Granted
Motu River Natural character 1984
Ahuriri River Wildlife habitat, fishery 1990
Rakaia River Natural character, habitat, fishery, recreation 1988
Mataura River Fisheries Pending
Rangitikei River Scenic character, recreation, fishery 1993
Lake Wairarapa Wildlife habitat 1989
Lake Ellesmere Wildlife habitat 1990
Manganuioteao River Natural character, scenic, wildlife, fishery 1989
Grey River Natural character 1991
Buller River Natural character, fishery, recreation Pending
Mohaka River Natural character, fishery, cultural Pending
Motueka River Scenic character, cave system, fishery Pending
Kawarau River Natural character Pending


Some of the lakes and rivers covered by Water Conservation Orders include significant wetlands (e.g. Lakes Ellesmere and Wairarapa and the Ahuriri River). However, the main responsibility for protecting wetlands lies with the Department of Conservation and the regional councils. The Department and at least one council (Taranaki) maintain wetland databases. Wetland protection can be achieved through rules in District Plans limiting harmful activities, voluntary arrangements with users, and outright purchase from owners.

A National Policy on Wetlands was approved by the Government in 1986 but was largely ignored and is now being reviewed by the Department of Conservation. The mid-1980s decision to end Government funding of irrigation, flood control and drainage schemes may have slowed some pressures on wetlands. Small-scale drainage continues to occur in a number of areas, particularly where dairy farming is expanding or intensifying, but new large-scale drainage schemes were virtually non-existent by 1994 (Ministry of Agriculture, 1994).

Five of the largest surviving wetlands have been designated as wetlands of international importance for wildfowl habitat under the Ramsar Convention. This convention, which New Zealand ratified in 1976, requires governments to identify at least one representative wetland within their territories that is of international importance, particularly as waterfowl habitat. The five listed wetlands are mostly under Department of Conservation protection or stewardship. They are:

  • the Firth of Thames tidal estuary (Waikato) - 7,800 hectares;
  • Whangamarino Wetland (Waikato) - 5,690 hectares;
  • Kopuatai Peat Dome (Waikato) - 9,665 hectares;
  • Farewell Spit (Nelson) - 11,388 hectares; and
  • Waituna Wetlands Scientific Reserve (Southland) - 3,556 hectares.

Many more of our wetlands meet Ramsar Convention standards for international quality and are in the process of being listed with the Ramsar Bureau. The Department of Conservation has recently published an inventory describing 73 of these, including the five already listed (Cromarty and Scott, 1996) (see Figure 7.23). A Ramsar listing does not automatically confer protection on a wetland, but it does raise their significance when decisions affecting them are made by government and local authorities.

Many wetlands, including parts of the Ramsar ones, are privately owned or are grazed by livestock from adjacent farmland. Protection measures therefore require cooperation from surrounding landowners. Apart from the Ramsar process, the Protected Natural Areas Programme also seeks to identify wetlands needing protection. A detailed inventory of significant wetlands (WERI) is maintained by the Department of Conservation.

Figure 7.23: Significant wetlands in New Zealand

New Zealand Wetlands:

Northland Conservancy

  • 1 Aupouri Peninsula Wetlands
  • 2 Parengarenga Harbour
  • 3 Muriwhenua Wetlands
  • 4 Whangarei Harbour
  • 5 Pouto Peninsula Wetlands

Auckland Conservancy

  • 6 Whangapoua Wetlands
  • 7 Kaitoke Swamp
  • 8 Kaipara Harbour
  • 9 Manukau Harbour

Waikato Conservancy

  • 10 Lower Waikato River and Estuary
  • 11 Whangamarino Wetland
  • 12 Waikato Lowland Lakes and Mineralised Swamp Lands
  • 13 Firth of Thames
  • 14 Kopuatai Peat Dome
  • 15 Kawhia Harbour
  • 16 Taharoa Lakes
  • 17 Waipa Peat Lakes

Bay of Plenty Conservancy

  • 18 Tauranga Harbour
  • 19 Maketu-Waihi Estuaries and Kaitena River Mouth Complex
  • 20 Ohiwa Harbour
  • 21 Kaituna Catchment Lakes and Wetland Complex
  • 21a Lake Rotorua
  • 21b Lake Rotoiti
  • 21c Lake Rotoehu
  • 21d Lake Rotoma
  • 22 Upper Tarawera Catchment Lakes and Wetland Complex
  • 23 Arahaki Lagoon

Tongariro/Taupo Conservancy

  • 24 Lake Taupo
  • 25 South Taupo Wetland

East Coast Conservancy

  • 26 Motu River Catchment
  • 27 Mohaka River and Tributaries

Hawke's Bay Conservancy

  • 28 Ahuriri Estuary and Associated Wetlands Wanganui Conservancy
  • 29 Reporoa Bog
  • 30 Makirikiri Tarns

Wanganui Conservancy

  • 31 Ahukawakawa Swamp
  • 32 Hawkens Lagoon
  • 33 Whangaehu River Mouth Dune Hollows
  • 34 Pukepuke Lagoon
  • 35 Lake Kaikokopu and Lake Koputara
  • 36 Manawatu River Mouth and Estuary

Wellington Conservancy

  • 37 Taupo Swamp
  • 38 Lake Wairarapa Wetlands

Nelson/Marlborough Conservancy

  • 39 Farewell Spit
  • 40 Whanganui Inlet and Mangarakau Swamp
  • 41 Waikoropupu Springs and Takaka Marble Aquifer
  • 42 Waimea Inlet
  • 43 Wairau Lagoons
  • 44 Buller River Catchment

West Coast Conservancy

  • 45 Karamea Estuary
  • 46 Lake Christabel
  • 47 North Westland Ecological Region Complex
  • 47a Lake Hochstetter
  • 47b Lake Ahaura
  • 47c Lake Haupiri
  • 47d Lake Brunner
  • 47e Lady Lake
  • 47f Kangaroo Lake
  • 48 Groves Swamp and Harman Swamp
  • 49 Shearer Swamp
  • 50 Lake Ianthe
  • 51 Whataroa Ecological Region Coastal Wetland Complex
  • 51a Saltwater Lagoon
  • 51b Waitangiroto Lagoon and Swamp
  • 51c Okarito Lagoon
  • 52 Ohinetamatea Swamp
  • 53 Tawharekiri Lakes
  • 54 Burmeister Morass
  • 55 Hermitage Swamp

Canterbury Conservancy

  • 56 Sumner Lakes Complex
  • 57 Waimakariri Lakes Complex
  • 57a Lake Grasmere and Lake Sarah
  • 57b Lake Letitia
  • 57c Lake Pearson
  • 57d Lake Hawdon and Marymere
  • 58 Coleridge Lakes Complex
  • 58a Lake Lyndon
  • 58b Ryton Lakes
  • 58c Lake Coleridge
  • 59 Ashburton Lakes Complex
  • 60 Mackenzie Basin Wetlands Complex
  • 60a Lake Alexandrina and Lake McGregor
  • 60b Tekapo Streams
  • 60c Glenmore and Tekapo Tarns
  • 60d Ohau Moraine Wetlands
  • 61 Central Southern Lakes Complex
  • 62 Canterbury Braided Rivers Complex
  • 62a Ashley River and Estuary
  • 62b Ahuriri River
  • 62c Waitaki Headwater Braided Rivers
  • 63 Avon-Heathcote Estuary
  • 64 Lake Forsyth
  • 65 Lake Ellesmere
  • 66 Te Whanga Lagoon and Lake Wharemanu

Otago Conservancy

  • 67 Sutton Salt Lake
  • 68 Lakes Waipori, Lake Waihola and Associated Wetlands
  • 69 Kawarau Catchment Wetland Complex
  • 69a Kawarau River
  • 69b Greenstone River and Caples River
  • 69c Dart River and Rees River
  • 70 Lake Hayes

Southland Conservancy

  • 71 Te Anau Basin Wetland Complex
  • 71a Dome Mire and Dismal Swamp
  • 71b Kepler Mire
  • 72 Awarua Plains Wetland Complex
  • 72a New River Estuary
  • 72b Awarua Bay
  • 72c Toetoes Harbour
  • 72d Seaward Moss-Waituna-Toetoes
  • 73 Freshwater

Source: Cromarty and Scott (1995)

Coastal waters

Legal protection of our coastal waters is mostly administered by the Department of Conservation under the Marine Reserves Act 1971. The Act allows areas of territorial sea (up to 12 nautical miles off-shore) to be preserved for scientific study where they "contain underwater scenery, natural features or marine life of such distinctive quality, or so typical, or beautiful, or unique, that their continued preservation is in the national interest". Anchoring, recreational fishing, and mineral exploration may be permitted in a marine reserve, but prohibited activities include discharges of any sort, commercial fishing, sand and shingle extraction, public works, unauthorised interference with marine life, and shooting.

In addition, the protected area provisions of the Wildlife Act (refuges and management reserves), and the Reserves Act (scenic, scientific, nature, and recreation), have been used to create intertidal protected areas in estuaries. Regional councils use regulatory measures, such as Estuarine Protection Zones, to control damaging activities in coastal waters and on their margins.

For two decades the Marine Reserves Act was interpreted narrowly as having a research rather than a conservation purpose. Only two marine reserves, with a combined area of less than 3,000 hectares, were created up to the end of 1989. During the same period, fisheries regulations were used to create three surrogate conservation reserves. Two of these were marine parks protected by the Fisheries Act 1983 and the Harbours Act 1950, while the third was upgraded in 1991 from a marine park to a special protected area with its own legislation - the Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area Act 1991 - to protect it from oil exploration which the fisheries regulations were powerless to exclude. Although marine parks established under the Fisheries Act 1983 continue to be protected, with the passing of the Fisheries Act 1996, no new marine areas can be protected under fisheries legislation.

Table 7.14: Marine conservation areas as at November 1995.
Marine reserves (and year gazetted) 760,513 hectares
Cape Rodney to Okakari Point (1975) (includes Goat Island and Leigh reserve) 518
Poor Knights Islands, Northland (1981) 2,410
Kermadec Islands (1990) 748,265
Wanganui-a-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Coromandel (1992) 840
Tuhua (Mayor Island), Bay of Plenty (1992) 1,060
Kapiti, Waikanae (1992) 2,167
Long Island - Kokomohua, Marlborough Sounds (1993) 619
Tonga Island, Abel Tasman National Park (1993) 1,835
Te Awaatu Channel (The Gut), Doubtful Sound (1993) 93
Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Fiordland (1993) 690
Westhaven (Te Tai Tapu), Karamea-West Coast (1994) 536
Long Bay - Okura, Auckland (1995) 980
Motu Manawa - Pollen Island, Auckland (1995) 500
Marine parks and protected areas 3,150 hectares
Mimiwhangata Marine Park, Northland (1983) 2,000
Tawharanui Peninsula Marine Park, Rodney (1981) 350
Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area, New Plymouth (1991) 800
Marine mammal sanctuaries 335,111 hectares
Auckland Islands (1993) 221,551
Banks Peninsula, Canterbury (1988) 113,560
Total marine conservation area 1,098,774 hectares

Source: Department of Conservation

Since 1990 eleven new marine reserves have been established under the Marine Reserves Act, beginning with the remote Kermadec Islands which were made a vast reserve of some 748,000 hectares (see Table 7.14). Some 24 additional sites are being considered by the Department of Conservation and other groups. In addition to the marine reserves and parks, two marine mammal sanctuaries were established under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. The Auckland Islands sanctuary was set up in 1993 to protect Hooker's sea lions from trawl nets, though it had been a no trawling zone under fisheries regulations since the early 1980s, and the Banks Peninsula sanctuary was set up in 1988 to protect Hector's dolphins from set nets.

In total the marine conservation area is now over 1 million hectares (nearly 4 percent of our coastal waters). However, the total is misleading because the remote Kermadec and Auckland Islands account for almost 90 percent of it. Excluding them and the Banks Peninsula sanctuary (whose restrictions apply only to set nets) the total marine conservation area is less than 15,000 hectares - well under 1 percent of our mainland coastal waters.