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2.2 Need for reform

The Government is concerned that the current approach to marine protection is not the most effective for managing our marine environment. The approach is complex and inflexible, and consultation and decision-making processes are overly long, costly and cumbersome.

The Marine Reserves Act was New Zealand’s first dedicated marine protection legislation, but it no longer meets New Zealand’s needs. This is because its purpose is too narrowly focused. Although it enables the complete protection of areas, marine reserves can only be established for the purpose of scientific study.

Other issues with the Marine Reserves Act are:

  • consultation processes are inadequate:

-   there is no single consultative process that helps build broad support

-   consultation is undertaken by the person making the proposal, which can lead to a lack of neutrality

-   the perceived lack of credibility in the process, and the need for a concurrent Ministerial decision, leads to unnecessary duplication of consultation

  • the Act itself does not specifically reference the Treaty of Waitangi and provides few mechanisms for iwi/Māori participation in decision-making, although the Treaty provision in the Conservation Act 1987 is referenced
  • proposals are considered in isolation, making it difficult to determine a specific area’s contribution to a broader network of protected areas.

New Zealand has several other tools that provide marine protection, but they are split across different legislation with a variety of purposes and decision-making processes. These include the Marine Mammals Protection Act, the Wildlife Act, and benthic protection areas or other fisheries restrictions under the Fisheries Act.

These tools all protect the marine environment in some way, but each on its own offers only limited protection. For example, marine mammal sanctuaries under the Marine Mammals Protection Act can be established to protect marine mammals from harmful human impacts, particularly in vulnerable areas such as breeding grounds. However, although these areas have various benefits they only restrict specific activities with the potential to harm marine mammals and do not explicitly provide protection for other marine species at risk.

Because these tools are so limited and cannot be implemented as a package, governments have repeatedly resorted to special legislation to put protection in place in areas like Fiordland, Kaikōura, Taranaki and the Subantarctic Islands.[5] The process for creating special legislation can be long, does not provide certainty for communities, and can mean there are inconsistencies in how each area is managed. As with all the other tools, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. The result is an approach to marine protection that incrementally allocates areas for differing purposes, rather than creating a representative and adaptable network of MPAs.

Summary of issues

Significant shortcomings of the current approach to marine protection include:

  • decisions on marine protection are made with little coordination
  • marine reserves can only be established for the purpose of scientific study
  • consultation processes in statute do not provide for different tools to be considered through a collaborative process and can lack credibility
  • proposals are not considered in a way that minimises costs for all parties involved
  • the location of protected areas is not considered in a way that maximises economic and environmental benefits for New Zealand
  • consideration of the effects on existing and future uses and values is inadequate, potentially limiting the sustainable growth of the marine economy
  • provision for iwi/Māori involvement in the development and management of MPAs is inconsistent and often inadequate
  • it does not address recreational amenity values including those of recreational fishers in high-demand areas
  • it does not enable the creation of a representative and adaptable network of protected areas across the territorial sea
  • it does not provide a dynamic approach for changing or improving protection as new information becomes available or new threats emerge.

The Government considers that the current approach does not provide adequate protection of the marine environment while growing the economy and allowing New Zealanders now and in the future to enjoy everything the ocean has to offer. To achieve the Government’s ambition for New Zealand to be a world leader in the sustainable management and protection of our marine environment, the existing approach needs to change.


  1. Do you agree there is a need for reform of New Zealand’s approach to marine protection?
  2. Are there any significant issues that haven’t been identified?
  3. Are there parts of the existing approach to marine protection that should be retained? Why?

  • [5] For example, it took 21 years and all of the tools described in this section to achieve comprehensive marine protection around the Subantarctic Islands. The process for developing special legislation took six years, from appointment of a stakeholder forum in 2008 to new legislation in 2014.