Protection in the marine environment

  • Image, Marine protected sites.

    New Zealand’s 4 million km2 marine environment is diverse, with a range of coastal habitats and offshore seabed environments. We also have many marine species found only in New Zealand. Marine protected areas conserve or manage some of these unique habitats and species, while a range of other tools also provide marine protection. We report on the area covered by these tools as an indirect measure to understand the state of the marine environment.

    We classified Protection in the marine environment as supporting information.

    Key findings

    The subantarctic and Kermadec regions have the largest proportion of protected areas.

    • We have 44 marine reserves. They cover 17,430km2 or about 10 percent of the 14 biogeographic regions (defined by the geographical distribution of animals and plants) that make up our territorial sea (out to the 12 nautical mile limit).
    • The proportion of each biogeographic region that is protected varies greatly.
    • Benthic protection areas (protected seabed areas) and seamount (underwater mountain area) closures cover almost one third (1,240,738km2) of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
    • We have six designated marine mammal sanctuaries, the largest (off the North Island’s west coast) aiming to protect the Māui’s dolphin.

    Figure 1

    Note: Marine protected areas (MPAs) in New Zealand’s EEZ and continental shelf include marine reserves, type 2 MPAs, seamount closures, benthic protected areas, and marine mammal sanctuaries. Type 2 MPAs prohibit certain fishing methods and fishing around submarine cables and pipelines. EEZ – exclusive economic zone; NM – nautical miles.

    Figure 2

    Protection in the marine environment, 2015 – interactive map

    Figure 3

    Note: The values for some categories are too small to display.

    Definition and methodology

    Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a conservation tool, restricting human activities to varying degrees. We report on the extent and location of MPAs in relation to biogeographic regions (defined by the geographical distribution of animals and plants) (Department of Conservation, 2014).

    Marine reserves lie within our territorial sea (12 nautical mile limit) and offer the highest level of marine protection in New Zealand waters. No marine habitat or life form, such as seaweed or fish, may be removed from these places.

    Marine reserves are usually designated to protect sites that are in good condition. They indicate the location of our most ecologically diverse marine sites.

    Benthic protection areas (protected seabed areas) and seamount (underwater mountain area) closures were designated in the exclusive economic zone, which extends to the 200 nautical mile limit.

    Type 2 MPAs have lower levels of protection than marine reserves. For example, they may allow fishing but restrict seabed trawling.

    Data quality

     Topic Classification   Relevance Accuracy 
    Protection in the marine environment Supporting information



    See Data quality information for more detail.


    Department of Conservation (2015). Marine protected areas: Tier 1 statistic 2015. Retrieved from

    Archived pages

    See Marine protected areas (archived October 2016). 

    Updated 27 October 2016

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