Dolphin numbers in the Bay of Islands are falling dramatically, with a 91 per cent decline in 21 years - and the Government is proposing a Marine Mammal Sanctuary to save them.
Conservation Minister Kiri Allan announced at Paihia today plans for a Marine Mammal Sanctuary covering most of the Bay of Islands, to provide much needed safety for the bottlenose dolphin population which is seriously impacted by vessels and people.
Allan is encouraging New Zealanders to have their say on a proposed marine mammal sanctuary to address the rapid decline of bottlenose dolphins in Te Pēwhairangi, the Bay of Islands.
The proposal, developed jointly with Ngā Hapū o te Pēwhairangi, would protect all marine mammals of the Bay of Islands and provide much needed safety for the bottlenose dolphin population which is seriously impacted by vessels and people, she said.
Scientific research shows a massive 91 per cent decline in the local Bay of Islands bottlenose dolphin population, from 278 in 1999 to just 26 recognisable individuals in 2020. Of this 26, only 16 now frequently visit the Bay.
"We have been monitoring the bottlenose dolphin situation in the Bay of Islands for the last 20 years, at the same time implementing measures to protect them when necessary," Allan said.
"However ongoing human activity has had a significant impact on the biologically important behaviours of these mammals, behaviours which are critical to their survival.
Latest research shows a 75 per cent calf mortality rate – the highest seen both in New Zealand and internationally. In the summer of 2019/2020, no new calves were born for the first time on scientific record.''
She said that highlights the need for further action and why she is consulting on the sanctuary proposal.
"The process will include community drop in sessions with a public consultation document being released to assist people to make their views known," Kiri Allan said.
The Sanctuary proposal that will be released for consultation includes the following restrictions:
For the Bay of Islands:
■ No swimming with marine mammals
■ Vessels to maintain a 400m distance from marine mammals;
Within the Bay of Islands:
■ Vessel speed to be restricted to 5 knots within two "marine mammal safe zones".
Public consultation will open on April 12 for 28 days. A decision on the proposal will be made following the consultation process.