Bottlenose dolphin. © Jason Pratt Creative Commons

Fiordland Marine Reserves


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Fiordland’s ten marine reserves border the Fiordland National Park and are a fantastic example of protected natural environments. The reserves include a huge variety of habitats and species such as sponges, lampshells and a wide range of fish.

These reserves also contain some of the world’s biggest populations of black coral trees, some of which are over 300 years old. These trees provide a home to brittlestars, a species that can only live entwined in their branches.

Yellow snake star in Fiordland Marine Reserve

Yellow snake star on black coral. © DOC

In the fiords, runoff from heavy rainfall on the mountains creates a permanent freshwater layer on the surface of the saltwater, that varies in depth from five centimetres to over 10 metres. Tannins, washed out of the vegetation on land, stain the water the colour of weakly brewed tea. This creates a dark layer on the surface that cuts down the amount of light entering the sea water, restricting most of the marine life to the top 40 metres. This band (below the freshwater layer) is calm, clear and relatively warm and is home to sponges, corals and fish of sub-tropical, cool water and deep water varieties. The fiords are also home to brachiopods, clam-like animals that have remained relatively unchanged for over 300 million years.

Kekeno New Zealand Fur Seal in Fiordland Marine Reserve

Kekeno - New Zealand fur seals. © Zwennie Creative Commons

Bottlenose dolphins (aihe), New Zealand fur seals (kekeno), Fiordland crested penguins (tawaki) and little blue penguins (kororā) are resident in the fiords.

The marine reserves range in size from 93 to 3,672 hectares. In total, they include over 10,000 hectares of inner-fiord marine habitat.

Fiordland’s marine reserves offer excellent scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities. You can dive or snorkel independently or with one of the tourism or charter boat services available. 

The ten reserves

  • Hawea (Clio Rocks) Marine Reserve covers 411ha of marine habitat. The near-vertical rock walls of Turn Round Point are a special feature of the reserve.
  • Kahukura (Gold Arm) Marine Reserve at Charles Sound covers an area of about 464ha. Providing a number of important marine habitats, red and black corals are also abundant here.
  • The 433ha Kutu Pārera (Gaer Arm) Marine Reserve is located in Bradshaw Sound. A number of marine habitats are found here, including estuarine habitat at the entrance of the Camelot River.
  • Moana Uta Marine Reserve at Wet Jacket Arm spans from the head of the sound to Entry Island. The 2007ha reserve features the highest known density of black coral in the fiords.
  • Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve is one of the most popular places in Fiordland to dive and see the black corals for which the fiords are famous.
  • Taipari Roa (Elizabeth Island) Marine Reserve covers an area of about 613ha in inner Doubtful Sound. The reserve is home to unique bright yellow glass sponges.
  • Taumoana (Five Fingers Peninsula) Marine Reserve is situated at the entrance of Dusky Sound. The reserve contains some of the only wave-exposed rocky reef habitat that is protected in Fiordland.
  • At 93ha, Te Awaatu Channel (The Gut) Marine Reserve is the smallest marine reserve in Fiordland.
  • Te Hāpua (Sutherland Sound) Marine Reserve is possibly the least studied and the least visited marine reserve in the Fiordland network.
  • At 3672ha, Te Tapuwae o Hua (Long Island) Marine Reserve is the largest reserve in Fiordland.

Hautai Marine Reserve

Also in Fiordland is Hautai, New Zealand’s most remote mainland marine reserve. Two days’ walk from the nearest road end, in an area with no formed walking tracks, its purpose is to protect representative marine habitats and animals of the southern West Coast.

There are guided walks are available along the Fiordland coast, including through the marine reserve. This stretch of coast is also sometimes walked by trampers between the Cascade and Hollyford Rivers. Alternatively, the reserve is accessible by boat.

Butterfly Perch in Fiordland Marine Reserve

Butterfly perch and sponge. © DOC

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