The Auckland Islands – Marine Mammal Sanctuary & Marine Re

Having an understanding of the importance of marine reserves and how we look after our unique marine environment, is an important part of being a Scuba Diver.  The Diploma of Scuba Instruction students at Dive HQ Christchurch, gain an appreciation the role of marine reserves through their studies and today, Diploma student Rhiannon Tuatini provides us with an insight to the incredible Auckland Islands and their Reserve.

Auckland Islands Yellow Eyed Penguin Auckland Islands Location

The Auckland Islands consists of an archipelago of islands, located 465 km south of the South Island.  We’re not talking about the Islands found near Auckland city in New Zealand, and their environment and distance from the southernmost point of New Zealand make it a unique and important ecosystem for a variety of species.

The area has been recognised as an important marine environment for marine mammals such as the Southern Right Whales, which breed in the port Ross area during winter.  Action was taken in 2002 to increase the protection of the area, and a moratorium was placed upon all commercial tourism between April and October in the sanctuary, which is the breeding season of the Southern Right Whales.  In 2003 the sanctuary was named as the Motu Maha marine reserve and the islands were observed to be a thriving ecosystem, with a huge number of native species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.  The Moto Maha marine reserve includes an area of 484,000 ha in the southern ocean and around the sub Antarctic Auckland Islands.  The reserve stretches to a depth of 3,000m.  This depth means that not only inshore areas are protected but also those species feeding and living at depth.  The reserve has aimed to protect the marine mammals in the area, and a ban on commercial fishing also protects many of the other species from being harvested.  The Auckland Islands have an abundance and diversity of seabirds.  It is a special location for the world’s yellow-eyed penguin population.  30 % of the world’s population of yellow-eyed penguins breed in the Auckland Islands.

Auckland Islands Hooker Sea Lion Auckland Islands Aerial photo

Sea Lions also enjoy the Auckland Islands as an important breeding site.  The New Zealand Hooker Sea Lions are the rarest and most endangered species of the five species of sea lions in the world.  95 percent of their pup production occurs on these islands.  They are endemic to Southern New Zealand and have an estimated population of 11,600 to 15,200.  Unfortunately the benefit of the sanctuary for Sea Lions is limited as they forage out to 100km off shore and many of their important feeding areas are still commercially fished, reducing their food supply and the seals are at risk of being caught in trawl nets and lines also.

The Marine environment includes bountiful numbers of arrow squid, a major food source that supports a variety of species on the Auckland Islands.  The sea is also rich with blue moki, trumpeter and the large spider crab.

The Auckland Islands and their ecosystem have not been studied enough to be well understood, therefore their protection will give future opportunities to explore and understand this unique marine ecosystem and the significance of this habitat to the community of marine mammals and species that live there.

As Divers, we are able to explore and enjoy these amazing marine environments.  If you haven’t experienced diving yet and would like to learn, sign up for one of Dive HQ’s Open Water Courses and you too will be able to adventure into the depths of these incredible marine environments.


Written by Dive HQ Christchurch

Leave a Reply