New Zealand’s rich seas
New Zealand is surrounded by biologically rich seas. The country’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) is 4 million square kilometres – more than 15 times larger than its land area. A high proportion of New Zealand’s marine species – 15,000 identified as of 2007 – are not found anywhere else.
Marine reserves are areas of the sea and foreshore where all marine life is protected. People are allowed to use them for recreation, but fishing or removing marine life is prohibited.
By 2014, 44 marine reserves had been created around the New Zealand coastline, covering 1,726,007 hectares.
Marine reserves range widely in size, from the 16-hectare Tauparikākā Marine Reserve on the West Coast to the enormous 745,000-hectare Kermadec Marine Reserve around the Kermadec Islands. The large Auckland Islands Marine Reserve (484,000 hectares) extends 12 nautical miles out from the islands. It protects deep-sea ecosystems at depths of up to 3,000 metres, as well as the main breeding habitats of the New Zealand sea lion and the southern right whale.
Marine mammal sanctuaries
Marine mammal sanctuaries can be established within New Zealand territorial waters (up to 12 nautical miles offshore). They protect marine mammals like dolphins, whales, seals and sea lions from activities that may harm them, such as particular fishing methods. In 2014 there were six marine mammal sanctuaries in New Zealand waters. A sanctuary around Banks Peninsula, protecting the endangered Hector’s dolphin from being caught in set nets, was established in 1988, and in 2008 was extended to cover 413,000 hectares.
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Protected rivers and lakes
The spoiling of New Zealand’s wild and scenic rivers, through damming to produce hydroelectricity or removing water for irrigation, became a major conservation issue in the 1970s. The Manapōuri power scheme affected much of the lower Waiau River, in Otago. The Tongariro, Waitaki and Clutha power schemes significantly altered three of the country’s largest wild rivers. Although most major rivers belonged to the Crown, there was no legal way to protect them. Exceptions were the headwaters of rivers in national and conservation parks, or in other large protected areas.
Legislation was passed in 1981 to allow for water conservation orders, which protect rivers and lakes from development. In 1984 the middle reaches of the Mōtū River, on the edge of the Raukūmara Wilderness Area in Raukūmara Forest Park, became the first river protected in this way. The Mōtū was highly prized by rafters as the longest challenging wilderness river in the North Island – but there had been plans to use it for hydroelectricity.
The Rakaia River received a conservation order in 1988. Since then, another 10 major rivers – the Manganuioteao, Ahuriri, Grey, Rangitīkei, Kawarau, Mataura, Buller, Motueka, Mōhaka and Rangitātā – have been protected. Protection orders have also been placed on two lakes that are important wildlife habitats: Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) and Lake Wairarapa.