For 40 years thousands of people have enjoyed Auckland marine reserves - now South Islanders and their visitors can expect similar pleasures.

Five marine reserves, dotted over 450 kilometres of coast from south of Haast to north of Karamea, were added to our protected waters network earlier this month.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith has described them as a great result for conservation.

"These reserves will allow the preservation and management of interconnected ecosystems from the mountains to the ocean," he said.

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While the primary purpose of marine reserves is to protect and enhance coastal environments, in a way similar to terrestrial national parks, they also provide exciting new playgrounds for those afflicted by love of the sea.

For instance, the Goat Island reserve at Leigh (established 1975) attracts 300,000 visitors each year.

Donning togs and swimming with fish; snorkelling and scuba-diving, or viewing sea creatures and kelp beds from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat are just some of the ways you can enjoy the underwater environment.

For a marine reserve to successfully nurture fish stocks, protective legislation must be strictly adhered to.

Earlier this year visitors to the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve found this out to their cost.

What several people "caught" with their lines in the water later got them into that other kind of "court" on the land.

However, marine protection can take many forms and these don't always involve "no take" zones.

DOC is working with the Ministry of Primary Industries and communities around New Zealand to establish a range of protected areas that will ensure permanent public access to healthy, thriving coastal waters.

DOC's focus these days is on understanding what the community values, and agreeing on measures that balance access with protection.

For many, this will simply mean leaving the fishing rod at home when heading off to spend time at a marine reserve.