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3.2 Four categories for marine protection

The new MPA Act will provide four categories with different levels of protection. This will mean protection can be designed to meet the specific environmental needs of an area, while taking into account existing and future values and uses.

The highest level of protection will continue to be provided by marine reserves, but the other categories will allow for varying levels of use alongside protection, enabling sustainable management of our marine environment.

The four categories proposed are:

  1. marine reserves
  2. species-specific sanctuaries
  3. seabed reserves
  4. recreational fishing parks.

The proposed Act will set out the purpose of each of the four categories. This will include which activities are allowed or prohibited in all areas protected in a particular category. For example, seabed mining will be prohibited in all seabed reserves. See table 1 for a summary of the purpose and proposed scope of each category.

Specific objectives for particular areas will be determined on a case-by-case basis but must be consistent with the purpose of the relevant category. This means it will be possible to apply different restrictions within MPAs of the same category. For example, the restrictions in place for a species-specific sanctuary to protect great white sharks would differ from those required in a sanctuary to protect coral.

The new MPA Act will allow the creation of MPAs in New Zealand’s territorial sea, which reflects the current scope of the Marine Reserves Act. The territorial sea is where the highest level of competition for access and resources currently exists, where the risks to marine biodiversity are greatest and where a large number of commercial, recreational and cultural activities take place. Because of this, we know more about the marine environment in the territorial sea than in other areas under New Zealand’s jurisdiction.

Decisions on marine protection in the territorial sea can be made taking into account an existing knowledge base, and often with clearly identified values and interests. As our knowledge of the marine environment in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf increases over time, there may be a case for extending the proposed categories of protection to these areas. This could include any new proposals beyond the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which could be progressed by way of special legislation.

Table 1:           Summary of categories under the proposed new Marine Protected Areas Act


Marine reserve

Species-specific sanctuary

Seabed reserve

Recreational fishing park


To preserve and protect areas in their natural state for the conservation of marine biodiversity. These areas will protect not only unique and special sites but also representative sites that exemplify important ecosystem features and values.

To preserve and protect one or more named species while allowing sustainable use. These sanctuaries will provide the ability to establish spatial protection for marine species at sea and on land areas used by the species, including those protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 or the Wildlife Act 1953.

To preserve and protect the seabed environment while allowing sustainable use. Seabed reserves will control activities that affect the seabed and a zone above it.

To enhance the enjoyment and value of recreational fishing in high-demand areas by reducing the impact of commercial fishing and enabling recreational fishers to take more responsibility for the effects of their activities in these areas and the sustainability of the fishery.

Proposed scope of category

These areas will be managed in their natural state and will be strictly protected. There will be no fishing or petroleum or minerals activity within marine reserves.

Which activities are restricted or prohibited will vary according to factors such as the ecology of the particular species, the components of the ecosystem that are important to that species or any specific protection objectives the community may have. Fisheries resources will be managed using established tools under the Fisheries Act 1996, where appropriate, in a manner consistent with the purpose of the sanctuary.

Seabed mining, bottom trawl fishing, and dredging will be prohibited in these areas. Other activities may be allowed if they do not conflict with the purpose of the reserve.

Commercial fishing will generally be prohibited for the main recreational species. Specific parks might allow commercial fishing to continue for certain species. Customary fishing will continue. Ongoing management of fisheries resources (eg, making of regulations prohibiting commercial fishing) will be carried out under the Fisheries Act 1996. Marine farming will not be affected and some petroleum or minerals activities could be allowed.

Lead agency

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

Ministry for the Environment

Ministry for Primary Industries

Current approach

Marine reserves are established under the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and through special legislation but can be established only for scientific purposes.

Individual species are currently protected through the Wildlife Act 1953 and Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978.

Some areas of the seabed in the territorial sea are protected through benthic protection areas under the Fisheries Act 1996 but are only protected from the effects of bottom trawling and dredging.

Equivalent areas can be created under the Fisheries Act 1996 and through special legislation (eg, Sugar Loaf Islands). They are managed under the Fisheries Act 1996.

Examples of how the marine protected area categories could be used

The Tonga Island and Horoirangi Marine Reserves in Tasman Bay are examples of how a marine reserve works. No fishing of any kind is permitted, and the sea floor cannot be disturbed in any way. Recreational activities are permitted, such as snorkelling, diving, kayaking and boating. Today, there are more than seven times as many crayfish and 40 times as many blue cod over 30 centimetres than when the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created 20 years ago. In the Horoirangi Marine Reserve, which was created in 2006, crayfish are 3.5 times more abundant, and a third of blue cod are over 30 centimetres, compared with just 1.7 per cent outside the reserve.

A species-specific sanctuary could be established to provide comprehensive protection to any species at particular sites. For example, a sanctuary could be designed to protect albatross, great white shark or blue whale feeding or breeding areas. Activities that may adversely affect the species would be restricted, such as seismic surveying or certain fishing methods.

A seabed reserve could be established to protect specific habitats or ecosystems in particular areas of the sea floor. For example, a reserve could be designed to protect seagrass or mussel beds. Activities that may affect these habitats or ecosystems would be restricted, such as boat anchoring or mooring and bottom-fishing methods.

The Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area is an example of how a recreational fishing park may work. All commercial fishing is prohibited in the area except surface trolling for kingfish and kahawai. Recreational fishing is allowed, subject to certain restrictions on methods and species.

A marine reserve is seen as a complete protection tool in a geographic area that would not overlap with other categories of MPAs. It would be possible for the other three categories of MPAs to overlap, with careful attention given to their design so it could practically work within that particular area.


  1. Do you support the outlined objectives of the new MPA Act?
  2. Are there additional objectives that should be included in marine protection reform?
  3. Are the four categories proposed for marine protection an appropriate way to achieve a representative and adaptable network of MPAs (objectives 1, 2, 5 and 6)?
  4. If the options outlined in table 1 were applied in an area of interest to you, what impact would that have on your existing or future activities?