Smith wants more marine reserves

Research reports on Nelson's two marine reserves have confirmed their conservation benefits, Nelson MP and Conservation Minister Nick Smith says, and have reinvigorated his ambition to create a record number of new reserves this year.

Dr Smith, who marked the reports' release with a kayaking trip in the Horoirangi Marine Reserve north of Nelson this morning, said he hoped that eight reserves would be created this year, taking the total to 40 since the first, at Leigh, north of Auckland, was created in 1976.

The new reserves are planned for Akaroa, the West Coast and the sub-Antarctic islands.

Just before Christmas, Dr Smith announced a forum for advancing marine protection in the Otago area, where there are currently no reserves.

The 904-hectare Horoirangi reserve, established in 2006, adjoins the Glen at the beginning of Nelson's Boulder Bank. The Tonga Island Marine Reserve is on the opposite side of Tasman Bay, off Abel Tasman National Park.

Dr Smith said the reports provided encouraging and irrefutable evidence of the success of marine reserves.

"This new research shows that 20 years after the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created, there are more than seven times as many crayfish and 40 times more blue cod over 30 centimetres.

"In the Horoirangi Marine Reserve, crayfish are 3.5 times more abundant, and a third of blue cod are over 30cm, compared with just 1.7 per cent outside the reserve."

These were impressive changes, which showed how marine ecosystems improved without the pressure of fishing, he said.

"It increases our knowledge of the marine environment, enables people to enjoy recreational activities in areas with more abundant marine life, and can provide fishing benefits in adjacent areas."

He said the Government would be doing more marine research with the expansion of the Department of Conservation's partnership with Air New Zealand. The airline was providing $7.4 million in conservation funding, and $1m was dedicated to expanding research to cover entire marine reserve ecosystems.

The marine environment was the new frontier for conservation, Dr Smith said.

"Historically, the focus has been on land, but we now know that 80 per cent of the species that are unique to New Zealand are in our seas.

"New Zealand has some of the most spectacular and unique coastlines and oceans in the world, and we need to do more to protect them."

The Horoirangi report says very large male and female crayfish were regularly recorded in the reserve at the end of the study but, "unexpectedly", the mean size of paua had declined within the reserve but had increased at the control sites on nearby sections of coastline.

In 2006, no legal-sized blue cod were found in the study area. Last year, 62 of the 169 cod measured in the reserve were 30cm or bigger, with only two reaching the legal size at the control sites.

The Tonga Island report says the density of crayfish increased dramatically, from 1.01 per 100 square metres to 7.1 in 2013.

In 2013, only 5 per cent of the blue cod population at the control sites were bigger than 30cm, compared with 48 per cent inside the reserve.

A no-take rule applies to all species within marine reserves.

The Nelson Mail