A German tourist is the first person to be caught breaking new marine reserve rules after a ranger spotted him taking mussels at a popular tourist beach at Punakaiki.

The Department of Conservation plans to step up checks, with naval and Ministry of Primary Industry patrols, and passing aircraft.

Five West Coast marine reserves were officially opened in September, covering 174sq km, at Kahurangi and Punakaiki in Buller, and Waiau-Glacier Coast, Tauparikaka and Hautai in South Westland.

DoC conservation services manager Bob Dickson, of Westport, said the tourist was apprehended near the Truman Track, on the north side of Punakaiki.


"He has received a warning," Mr Dickson said, noting the man was set to leave the country. "He was completely ignorant, a foreign visitor, we accepted that."

A ranger had spotted the illegal harvest.

Overall, people had been pretty good at respecting the new rules, Mr Dickson said.

Rangers at Karamea and the hut wardens on the Heaphy Track were helping with compliance, and they also used aircraft passing overhead to keep an eye out. In Punakaiki, where it was busier, there was a greater opportunity for people to take the lead and report violations.

He said DoC had an "integrated management" approach to the marine reserves.

"We have been in discussion with the MPI compliance staff in Christchurch about bringing a boat over."

The navy would also do inshore patrols when passing through West Coast waters, with no advance warning of visits.

It is illegal to fish inside a marine reserve, either from a boat or from shore, or to take or interfere with fish and other marine life.

However, recreational picking of beach stones, non-living shells and driftwood is allowed.

Penalties under the Marine Reserves Act 1971 include confiscation of equipment, vessels or vehicles, fines and imprisonment.

- Greymouth Star