Marine Reserves of New Zealand

Cape Rodney Rocks
© Piotr Zurek
Fascinating Facts

New Zealand’s marine reserves are Type 1 Marine Protected Areas - our highest level of marine protection. 

They can include any area from the high tide line out to 12 nautical miles. Within the boundaries, animals and plants, as well as non-living features like shells and rocks, are protected and can’t be removed. That means activities like fishing or mining are prohibited. However people can still enjoy sailing, kayaking, swimming and diving within the reserves. 

There are currently 44 New Zealand marine reserves.  The largest are on distant offshore islands, but there are many smaller reserves on, or just off both main islands.  Here are some of them. 


Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserv

Off the coast of Northland, the reserve includes the world’s largest underwater sea cave. The Poor Knights are a popular diving spot drawing in tourists from around the world and providing a boost to the local economy. This marine reserve was created in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1998 that it was enshrined as a fully protected reserve with no fishing allowed.

Cape Rodney-Okakari Marine Reserve 

Commonly known as Goat Island or Leigh, this reserve north of Auckland was the first one, established in 1975. Since its then, ecologically important kelp forests have returned, crayfish populations have boomed, and fish stocks like snapper and blue cod have flourished.

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Just north of Gisborne, this East Coast reserve features eight distinct marine habitats, including inshore reefs and tidal flats, and supports an array of wildlife.  Established in 1999, it is home to New Zealand fur seals and species of whales and dolphins, while the rock pools within the reserve abound with anemones, small fish, and crayfish.  

Kāpiti Marine Reserve

Surrounding part of Kāpiti Island, this lower-North Island reserve is our fourth oldest (established in 1992) and is also one of the largest coastal reserves. Blue cod populations thrive within this reserve, with surveys showing they’re bigger in size and more abundant than in nearby sites its boundaries.

Poor knights marine life
© Timothy Howarth

Poor Knights

Tonga Island Marine Reserve 

Established in 1993, it is part of Abel Tasman National Park, extending the protection of the coastline out to one nautical mile. Tonga Island itself is home to a colony of fur seals. Studies show that since its establishment, Tonga Island Marine Reserve has led to larger and more abundant populations of crayfish and blue cod.

Akaroa Marine Reserve

One of our newest reserves established in 2014. Covering about 12 per cent of the Akaroa Harbour, the reserve is now has the highest concentration of Hector's dolphins in the country. It’s also a critically important refuge for orcas, humpback whales, little blue penguins, and fur seals.

Hautai Marine Reserve

New Zealand's most remote mainland reserve, protecting the diverse marine habitats and wildlife of the southern West Coast. It lies alongside Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Underwater canyons offshore are a vital food sources for abundant New Zealand fur seals, Fiordland crested penguins, and blue penguins.

paddling canoe Abel Tasman

Kayaking in Abel Tasman

New Zealand needs more Marine Protected Areas

Unsustainable fishing, plastic pollution and climate change are pushing fragile marine species and habitats to the brink of extinction. 30% of our marine mammals and 90% of our seabird species are threatened.             
And less than 1% of our Moana is protected.

Add your name to show your support for '30x30'  - having 30% of our ocean in Marine Protected Areas by 2030.