Sanctuaries planned to protect dolphins

Marlborough's population of endangered Hector's dolphins are among a few in New Zealand which may soon be living in waters free of dangerous set nets.

Cloudy Bay and Cliffords Bay make up one of just four new proposed marine mammal sanctuaries to save the world's smallest dolphins.

The sanctuaries will cover a large chunk of the North Island's west coast, Porpoise Bay in the Catlins in South Otago and Te Waewae Bay in Southland.

An existing marine sanctuary at Banks Peninsula will also be extended, it is proposed in a draft Department of Conservation report.

Sanctuaries can be set up in territorial waters to create a refuge and ban activities that harm marine mammals. They do not ban all fishing but may restrict what methods can be used.

The DOC report said set nets posed the greatest human threat to the dolphins along with inshore trawl fishing, disease and pollution.

Forest and Bird spokesperson for the top of the south Debs Martin said proposed sanctuaries were good news for Marlborough's dolphins and she hoped the public would show their support.

"We would encourage people to make comments on the plan, or give DOC a call and say good on you. It's just as important to give feedback when you agree with something as well as when you don't agree with something."

She said that while not much was known about the Cloudy Bay/Cliffords Bay population of Hector's dolphin, it was enough to know they were there and they should be protected.

Last year two of the tiny mammals were caught in set nets in Marlborough.

Ms Martin said set nets caused 60 percent of Hector's dolphin deaths where the cause of death was known. Hector's dolphin numbers in New Zealand have dropped from about 30,000 in the 1970s to less than 8000 today.

This year, 12 Hector's dolphins have been reported dead on the West Coast and Forest and Bird is calling for a nationwide ban on set nets.

But a spokesman for Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the West Coast Hector's dolphin population was relatively healthy.

Public submissions on the draft plan close on October 24.

The Marlborough Express