The creation of Northland's second marine reserve is a world first, reckons Ngunguru marine expert, Wade Doak.
The 237ha reserve in Whangarei Harbour comes after 16 years effort and the work of more than 1000 Kamo High School pupils.
Former Kamo pupil Samara Sutherland, 26, who has campaigned for the "wet library" since she was a Year 13 geography student, still marvels that it's the work of school kids.
So does Mr Doak. "This is unprecedented, that generations of high-school kids have fought for a marine protected area and succeeded."
Faced with criticism for robbing recreational boaties of fish-rich water near Reotahi, Ms Sutherland said it was a "very small" marine reserve.
Less than 1 per cent of New Zealand's mainland waters had marine reserve status, she said.
Ms Sutherland is passionate about changing attitudes and fighting for the environment. "I fight for Mother Earth. Some think it's ours to trample on. It's ours to work with, to be part of."
With an environmental studies degree, her diving instructor ticket and rescue-diver status, she now co-ordinates Experiencing Marine Reserves. The group shows students protected and unprotected marine areas so they can see what reserve status can do.
Until now Ms Sutherland has had to take young Northlanders south to Goat Island, near Leigh, to see a protected part of the coast. Now a rich piece of the sea at their doorstep has special protection.
Josh Sayer, 14, and Sam Metcalfe, 13, are part of this year's 30-strong Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve supporters group, backing up the work of the Year 13 students. They're both keen fishers and "spear-os" but they can also see the benefits of reserves.
During a 25-minute snorkel yesterday they saw spotties, parore, sea hare, strange sponges, tubeworms, triplefins, horse mussels and goatfish.
"It's exciting to see what will happen once this area is protected," Ms Sutherland said. "What new things are we going to find out about the ecosystem?"
Fishers: We want to have a say
Whangarei boat operators and fishing fans say they can't stop the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve opening today - but they want more consultation for any more.
Recreational fisher Kevin Purdy said the chosen areas were ones where many people liked fishing.
"I'm not against marine reserves but I don't like the way the whole thing's being done willy-nilly, without any research on whether it's going to benefit the people out there," he said.
"A lot of people fishing on the shore and in aluminium boats only go there on nice sunny afternoons and on weekends.
"They just can't see a minority group take that away."
Tutukaka charter boat operator Peter Saul said the whole process was conducted in an "ad hoc" manner.
"It would've been far better to have a consensus approach and involve the people, rather than picking areas at random."
Overall he backed the idea mooted by Kamo High School pupils and teacher Warren Farrelly 16 years ago. But he felt Passage Island was too close to the Marsden Pt oil refinery and port to be suitable for a marine reserve.
Celebratory feeling is a little reserved
Conservationists are celebrating the opening of Northland's second marine reserve but the feeling is tinged with disappointment.
As well as Waikaraka's mangroves and the rocky depths around Passage Island, the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve's original proposal included a larger area of mudflats around Matakohe/Limestone Island but that was dropped after opposition.
Marine expert Wade Doak said the Kamo High School students' original vision was to protect a series of three different habitats. While marine life around Motukaroro was exceedingly rich, Waikaraka's mangroves were "pretty lacklustre".
"It was meaningful only when part of a sequence.
"The three habitats would've given the kids a benchmark, to show them what different environments are like without interference.
"Part of me feels I should be happy they've got what they have but miserable old Doak still thinks the kids should've got a better deal."
Kamo-based marine reserves advocate Vince Kerr was also disappointed.
The students had answered all objections but, between the end of the public process and Department of Conservation handing its report to the Government two years later, Matakohe was dropped.
However, the students' achievement was huge nonetheless.
"As an example of what they can achieve, the quality of their work and the challenges they faced year after year - I think it's just fantastic."
- NORTHERN ADVOCATE (WHANGAREI)