Marine mammal sanctuary gets green light

  • Boats to maintain a 300m distance from all marine mammals;
  • People to keep out of the water within 300m of all marine mammals; and
  • Boats to keep to a 5-knot speed limit in two marine mammal safe zones.

A marine mammal sanctuary in Te Pēiwhairangi/Bay of Islands aims to not only reverse the decline in the numbers of bottlenose dolphins in the area but better protect visiting orcas and fur seals as well, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says.

“The waters around the Bay of Islands are the perfect nursery habitat for marine mammals. They are also a tourist mecca, particularly over the summer months, with the iconic bottlenose dolphins a major attraction.

“Extensive studies have shown, however, that the near constant presence of people and boats disrupts normal behaviours critical for the mammal’s survival, such as resting and feeding. As a 2016 Massey University report noted the problem is the frequency of interactions; they are “being loved too much”.

“The Bay’s bottlenose dolphin are known to spend an average 86 percent of daylight hours with at least one boat nearby. That puts pressure on them (and other marine mammals) that can lead to stress, reduce reproductive success and makes them more vulnerable to other changes in their environment.

“We couldn’t allow that to keep happening. By designating this area a sanctuary we are creating an environment where the human-animal interaction co-exists rather than disrupts, while also protecting an amazing taonga for future generations.

“The decision to declare a sanctuary wasn’t taken lightly. Public consultation was a vital part of the process and several changes have been made to the original proposal following careful consideration of almost 650 submissions.

“The rules let boaties continue to enjoy and use the beautiful waters of the Bay, but in a way that allows our marine mammals to as well. Unlike some other marine refuges there are no specific restrictions on fishing.

Our partners in progressing the sanctuary - Ngā Hapū o Te Pēwhairangi, have been there side by side with myself and the Department of Conservation on our journey to protect the dolphins.

“It is our collective aim to ensure a safe haven for these amazing, intelligent creatures so that they remain a treasured part of the community,” Kiri Allan said.

The sanctuary comes into effect on December 15.

Note to editors:

Marine Mammal Sanctuaries (MMS) are designed to protect marine mammals from harmful human impacts, particularly in vulnerable areas. In New Zealand, New Zealand has a total of eight sanctuaries that provide special protection for marine mammals. They are created to address locally specific challenges.

The Te Pēiwhairangi/Bay of Islands Marine Mammal Sanctuary covers the coastal area enclosed by the harbour line from Cape Brett to Tikitiki Island, and waters accessed from the towns of Rawhiti, Russell, Opua, Paihia and Kerikeri.

Bottlenose dolphins are found worldwide but are classified as nationally endangered in New Zealand with their total population thought to be around 1000.