NZ's first whale and seal sanctuaries open

New Zealand's first whale and seal sanctuaries were opened in Kaikoura today by the Minister of Conservation.

The divisive debate over marine protection for the area had been going for more than 20 years, but an agreement was reached in Parliament last week to pass the legislative bill through its final stages.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith said Kaikoura had the most biologically rich ocean environment in the world, which needed the recognition and protection of the new reserves, sanctuaries and tighter fishing limits that will be signed into effect tomorrow.

The Kaikoura Whale Sanctuary, comprised of nearly 5000 square kilometres, provides protection for the sperm, humpback, southern right, blue, killer and other whales that frequent the area.

It is in the area of Whale Watch, which Smith said was fitting as it now supported a $134 million per year tourism industry.

The Ohau Point Fur Seal Sanctuary would enable limits on public access to what had become an internationally recognised tourist destination, Smith said.

"The seal pups playing in the local waterfall delight tens of thousands of visitors and this measure will help ensure this experience is protected into the future."

No mining, fishing or harvesting of any kind would be allowed in the fully protected Hikurangi Marine Reserve, covering more than 10,000 hectares and extending 23.4km.

Smith acknowledged the collective effort made by representative groups in Kaikoura including iwi, recreational and commercial fishers, and boating and conservation groups that led to the marine conservation measures.