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2.1 How marine areas are currently protected

New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to develop marine protection legislation when it introduced the Marine Reserves Act in 1971. A proposal for a marine reserve may be made at any time by any individual or group that meet the criteria under the Marine Reserves Act. Marine reserves offer the highest level of protection in New Zealand because they generally prohibit the removal of all marine habitats and life, providing an environment for scientific study.

New Zealand has other legislative tools available that offer marine protection in specific circumstances, including species protection under the Wildlife Act, and marine mammal sanctuaries established under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. These statutes do not provide for a range of marine protection and use measures to be implemented as a package, so some key initiatives over the past two decades have been put in place using special Acts of Parliament, such as in Fiordland, Kaikoura and the Subantarctic Islands.

Fisheries restrictions under the Fisheries Act have also been used to sustainably manage fisheries and mitigate the impact of fishing activities on the environment and various affected species within the territorial sea and beyond.

Within the territorial sea, New Zealand currently has 44 marine reserves, eight marine mammal sanctuaries, and four benthic protection areas.[4] The location of these is shown in appendix A and a full list can be found on the Department of Conservation website: www.doc.govt.nz/nature/habitats/marine/marine-reserves-a-z/.

Bill Ballantine, the father of marine protection in New Zealand

“Our marine environment is magnificent. It is not some trivial extra, like the ribbon on a parcel, but a major asset, worthy of our care and attention” (Ballantine, 1991, p 15).

Dr Bill Ballantine, QSO, MBE (1937–2015), successfully promoted the establishment of ‘no-take’ marine reserves in New Zealand and internationally. He worked tirelessly for six years to promote the
enactment of the Marine Reserves Act 1971, which resulted in the establishment of the Leigh Marine Reserve (Cape Rodney–Okakari Point), New Zealand’s first marine reserve.


  • [4] Around the Kermadec Islands, the entire territorial sea is occupied by the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve, and the Kermadec Benthic Protection Area is overlaid on that reserve. Benthic protection areas cover the entire territorial sea around the Antipodes Islands, Bounty Islands and Campbell Island, and have subsequently been augmented by a mix of marine reserves and additional regulations under the Fisheries Act.