A rāhui has been placed on Sullivan Lake and surrounding reserve area in Whakatāne following the drowning of a toddler on Sunday.

Whakatāne District Council and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa advised the rāhui would be in place from 9am today until 5pm on Friday April 26.

A rāhui is a form of restriction that limits work in and around the lake and any organised public use of the reserve.

The kaitiaki of the area offered thanks in advance for the community's adherence to, and respect for, the rāhui.

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Police said emergency services were alerted to the incident at 8.45am on Sunday but no further details had been released.

The Rotorua Daily Post understands the body of the toddler had been returned to family and he was now at Te Pahou Marae on the outskirts of Whakatāne.

The council's manager of public affairs, Ross Boreham, said a meeting would be sought so council members and staff could express their heartfelt condolences.

"The loss the family is dealing with is huge and the fact that this has happened in a much-loved local park is also extraordinarily upsetting for everyone who lives around or visits the Sullivan Lake Reserve."

The council had sought guidance on the application of the Fencing Act, as it applies to waterways, but he said the likelihood was that any regulations relating to fencing of waterways would have to be government-led.

"Across the country, there would probably be hundreds of thousands of properties that are in the vicinity of one sort of waterway or another – streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, estuaries and the sea.

"Any regulatory approach that sought to either fence off all waterways, or require any property in close proximity to a waterway to be securely fenced in, would require an enormous effort to implement."

However Boreham said the council would be compiling a report on the circumstances around the tragic event.

"This is so that we can provide the necessary information to elected members, and to WorkSafe NZ, as required."

Places and Open Spaces staff who had worked for the council for two decades said they were not aware of any similar situations.

A police media spokeswoman said a coroner would investigate the toddler's death.

"It would not be appropriate for us to comment on any circumstances that may or may not have occurred. The coroner will release these in his/her findings," she said.