Forest and Bird is welcoming a proposed Bay of Islands marine reserve, saying protection for one of the country's most popular marine areas is long overdue.

Last week the community conservation group Fish Forever launched a proposal for a no-take reserve split into two areas, one around Okahu and Waewaetorea islands and the other adjoining the Rawhiti Peninsula. The proposal covers six per cent of the Bay's waters.

Forest and Bird marine conservation advocate Katrina Goddard said the current lack of marine reserves in the Bay was typical of the poor level of marine protection in New Zealand waters. Maunganui Bay, near Cape Brett, is protected by a rahui but it has to be renewed every two years.

"The Bay of Islands is hugely popular with tourists, recreational anglers and boaties, and there's an urgent need to set aside a portion of the area for full marine protection. These reserves would allow significant pockets of marine life to flourish," she said.


Large parts of the Bay of Islands had been turned into kina barrens, where the absence of crayfish and snapper had allowed kina to multiply, killing off kelp and depriving juvenile fish of food and hiding places.

Easily accessible marine reserves drew huge numbers of visitors and helped replenish fish stocks across the wider area, Ms Goddard said.

Currently less than one per cent of New Zealand's total marine area was protected by marine reserves.

Fish Forever is calling for feedback on the plan and suggested no-take areas and if it gets public backing, the group will put a formal proposal to the director-general of Conservation ahead of November's election.

The proposal was launched last Thursday night at the Copthorne in Waitangi, where marine ecologist Vince Kerr of Kamo said doing nothing while marine life disappeared was not an option.

Submissions on the proposal can be made via the website until June 13.