• April 11, 2018
Skipper Luke Wynne spends his days working around the protected area. Photo: supplied
Maritime New Zealand is getting tough in its campaign against ships entering the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve off Northland.
MNZ has introduced the use of a geo-fence and issued 19 infringement notices in the past year.
MNZ specialist investigator Nick Dowden said the islands off the Tutukaka coast were a critical habitat for a number of species and a tightening of MNZ reporting procedures had become necessary.
Mr Dowden said offenders were often large cargo ships that take the direct line down the east coast and "clip the corner" of the reserve to save time and money.
“Offenders who clip the edge can cop a $14,000 fine. It’s like a speeding ticket at the next level,” said Mr Dowden.
“It would be ecologically catastrophic if anything were to happen, so to avoid this we must do what we can to not let anything happen anywhere near the islands.”
Local Annika Anderson regularly uses the Poor Knights reserve as a diving spot with her partner.
“The protection of the area is important for keeping marine populations high.
"New Zealand fish species such as snapper and kingfish numbers are absolutely flourishing in the area. we can’t risk messing that up,” said Miss Anderson.
“The Poor Knights islands are home to the only natural remaining population of tuatara in New Zealand. These animals need protecting more than ever.”
Dive Tutukaka skipper Luke Wynne said it was very important to protect the subtropical marine life around the islands.
“Any oil spill or large commercial accident could spell disaster for these species and undo years of growth the marine environment has experienced since becoming a marine reserve,” said Mr Wynne.
The Northland Regional Council placed the ban on vessels travelling through the area in the late 1990s after significant oil spills.
The Department of Conservation’s Bronwyn Saunders said the Poor Knights were an area highly sensitive to oil pollution and any large vessel causing damage to marine life would have adverse impacts
“Research has found that disruptions from large vessels are a huge threat to certain marine populations, specifically the rare bottlenose dolphin that inhabits the Northland area,” said Ms Saunders.
Maritime New Zealand monitors the geo-fence around the area which alerts it to ships as soon as they enter the reserve.