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Forest & Bird says today’s announcement of six new marine reserves, in the south-east of the South Island, is a significant move towards protecting vulnerable Southern Ocean ecosystems. 

The agreement, more than a decade in the making, will increase mainland reserves by more than 60 per cent (615 km2 to about 1,011 km2). This includes establishing New Zealand’s largest ever marine reserve (excluding offshore islands), Papanui, which is 165km2.   

Forest & Bird Otago/Southland Regional Conservation Manager, Chelsea McGaw says not only will all six reserves protect marine ecosystems, and the vulnerable species that use these wild places, but they will also ensure river mouths, estuaries and tidal lagoon/salt marsh habitats are protected, not just ‘the ocean’ – which is what people think when they hear marine reserves. 

"Establishing six new marine reserves is welcome news to Forest & Bird and to the thousands of people who’ve submitted in favour of these reserves over the past 10 years – they will become outstanding places for generations of Kiwis to explore and enjoy,” Ms McGaw says. 

“However, the job isn’t done yet because it fails to meet the Marine Protection Area (MPA) policy and New Zealand’s international obligations.  

“The six marine reserves will protect only 4.05% of the entire Southeast Marine Protection Forum SEMPF area; there are no marine reserves proposed for either the biodiversity-rich, but vulnerable Catlins region, or the significant biogenic habitats associated with the Hay Paddock, off Ōamaru. 

“Essentially the reserves don't adequately represent the full range of unique habitats found in southeastern Aotearoa New Zealand – for example, they do not protect the full extent of hoiho yellow-eyed penguin habitat or their foraging area, one of the world’s rarest penguins.” 

Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime and Oceans and Fisheries Minister Rachel Brooking announced the reserves today saying hoiho will have their habitat protected under this move, along with toroa northern royal albatross, pakake NZ sealion, kororā little blue penguins, as well as brittle stars, squat lobster, kōura, shrimps, crabs, sponges, sea squirts and reef fishes.  

“Last year at the COP15 summit in Montréal, NZ signed up to the ‘30x30’ initiative to protect 30% of land and of ocean by 2030. We’ve got a very, very long way to go to ensure 30% of oceans in Aotearoa are protected in the next six years,” Ms McGaw says. “This is one step towards that, but our efforts will need to be accelerated.” 

The reserves will contribute to two of Te Mana o te Taiao’s 2030 goals:  

  • 10.5.2 ‘Significant progress has been made in protecting marine habitats and ecosystems of high biodiversity value’, and  
  • 10.6.2 ‘Significant progress made in establishing an effective network of marine protected areas and other protection tools’.  

The new marine reserves will come into force following an Order in Council and gazettal process, likely to be completed by mid-2024.

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