On August 7, a three-kilometre stretch of central Hawke’s Bay coastline became New Zealand’s 14th marine reserve. Named Te Angiangi Marine Reserve, it is situated between Aramoana and Blackhead beaches, about 30 km east of Waipukurau. Despite its small size (446 ha), it is significant as the first marine reserve on New Zealand’s east coast south of the Bay of Plenty.
The reserve was originally mooted in 1981 by Pourerere Beach bath owners, who lobbied the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries (MAF) for a reserve in their bay, a few kilometres north of Aramoana. In 1987, MAF included the proposal in a discussion paper on marine protected areas in the Central Fisheries Management Area.
Over the next 10 years, the newly formed Department of Conservation investigated several potential sites in the area, but some were opposed by commercial rock lobster fishers, who suggested alternative locations.
Given the ecological Piopimahi similarity of the various (Milford Sound).possible sites, the Te Awaatu Channel selection of Te Angiangi (The Gut) was finally determined by pragmatic considerations such as support from tangata whenua and adjacent landowners, the impact on recreational and commercial fishers and issues associated with the provision of services for visitors to the reserve.
The boundaries eventually adopted included a reef system and a buffer of encircling sandy sea floor.Te Angiangi Marine Reserve is significant because it, like New Zealand’s first and best known marine reserve near Leigh, protects an ordinary piece of mainland coastline. Despite some regional peculiarities caused by the overlap of the East Cape and Southland oceanic currents, the majority of species found in the reserve are common around large areas of both the North and South Islands.
I made my first visit to the site in 1990 as a recreational diver seeking rock lobster and paua for the pot. Gearing up on the intertidal platform, I was struck by how similar the reef was to areas around Kaikoura Peninsula. It was dominated by large beds of eel grass, Neptune’s necklace, pink coralline turf and large numbers of grazing molluscs.
Underwater, what was obvious even then was the scarcity of larger reef fish such as moki, butterfish, marblefish and large banded wrasse—despite an abundance of suitable habitat. Discussions with people who fished and dived this area during the 1960s and earlier confirmed that mold and butterfish, and even hapuku and snapper, had once been common. All those I spoke to blamed the decline on three things: the environmental pressures of the human presence on the coast, the deep freeze and the popularity of monofilament nylon gill nets.
Perhaps in years to come Te Angiangi Marine Reserve will restore at least some of the lost diversity. Few people hold out much hope for the hapuku, but who knows. After all, some of Leigh’s critics said rock lobster were too mobile for a marine reserve to have any effect on them, and the crustaceans have once again become abundant there.
Marine reserves allow people to observe marine life in a near-natural state. They also serve as refuges for breeding stocks of organisms to rebuild and populate depleted surrounding areas. Under the Marine Reserves Act of 1971, a network of reserves is to be established that “contain underwater scenery, natural features or marine life of such distinctive quality, or so typical, or beautiful, or unique, that their continued preservation is in the national interest.” Although about a third of our land area is protected in parks or reserves, until 1975 none of the 160,000 square kilometres of our territorial sea (out to 12 nautical miles from the coast) was protected in any way.
More than 20 years later, about four per cent of this area is in marine reserves, but most of this is actually around the remote Kermadec Islands far to the north-east of New Zealand. Subtract this reserve and we are down to one per cent of our territorial sea.
Compared with the considerable size of our Exclusive Economic Zone (4.8 million square kilometres), our reserves constitute an extremely puny 0.03 per cent, although the arguments for having marine reserves are just as compelling as those for terrestrial preserves.
Some 100,000 visitors a year now admire the abundant sea life which has returned to the Leigh reserve, now established for 25 years.
Information about the application process to have an area protected as a marine reserve is available from Department of Conservation offices.