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Marine sanctuary planned for Bay of Islands

Conservation Minister Kiri Allan is encouraging New Zealanders to have their say on a proposed marine mammal sanctuary to address the rapid decline of bottlenose dolphins in Te Pewhairangi, the Bay of Islands.

The proposal, developed jointly with Nga Hapu o te Pewhairangi, would protect all marine mammals of the Bay of Islands and provide much needed safety for the bottlenose dolphin population, which is seriously impacted by vessels and people.

Scientific research shows a 91 percent decline in the local Bay of Islands bottlenose dolphin population, from 278 in 1999 to just 26 recognisable individuals in 2020. Of this 26, only 16 now frequently visit the area.

“We have been monitoring the bottlenose dolphin situation in the Bay of Islands for the last 20 years, at the same time implementing measures to protect them when necessary,” Ms Allan said.

“However, ongoing human activity has had a significant impact on the biologically important behaviours of these mammals, behaviours which are critical to their survival.

“Latest research shows a 75 percent calf mortality rate — the highest seen in New Zealand and internationally. In the summer of 2019/20, no new calves were born for the first time on scientific record.

“That highlights the need for further action and why we are now consulting on the sanctuary proposal.

“The process will include community drop-in sessions with a public consultation document being released to assist people to make their views known,” Ms Allan said.

The proposal includes the following restrictions —

For the Bay of Islands:

' No swimming with marine mammals;

' Vessels to maintain a 400m distance from marine mammals.

Within the Bay of Islands:

' Vessel speed to be restricted to five knots within two “marine mammal safe zones”.

Public consultation will open on April 12 for 28 days. A decision on the proposal will be made following the consultation process.

Kiri Allan