Proposed marine reserves off the West Coast have been drastically reduced in size so much so that one advocate says they are "an insult" to those who spent years trying to establish them.

Five marine reserves covering 17,528ha have been proposed for Kahurangi, Punakaiki, Okarito, and Gorge River, together with an 'educational site' at Ship Creek, north of Haast. Kahurangi and Okarito will become the two largest marine reserves on the mainland coast.

The Department of Conservation has received 166 submissions - four objected, seven in full support and 155 qualified. The Greymouth Star obtained the submissions under the Official Information Act, but most names have been withheld.

One submitter said that in 2009, 96,302ha had been proposed for protection - that was now down to 17,528ha.


"The new proposal in the current application is disgraceful, mediocre and inadequate, and an insult to those who have laboured hard on behalf of the West Coast marine environment."

Another submitter said the Government's biodiversity strategy called for 10 per cent of the country's marine environment to be protected by 2010, but the total length of the West Coast reserves was only 40.1km, or 6.7 per cent of the region.

A marine management expert said the 1 per cent protection was "a joke when compared to clean, green Australia".

"We can't keep pretending the world won't notice as we chop at our clean green image while other countries make bold moves to be sustainable."

Forest and Bird said the reduction was "significant" - the reserves would cover 175 square kilometres out of a possible 13,112 square kilometres.