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Fiordland Marine Reserves

Fiordland has ten marine reserves, which are found from Milford Sound in the north to Preservation Inlet in the south. They range in size from 93 to 3,672 hectares. In total, they include over 10,000 hectares of inner fiord marine habitat. The reserves border the Fiordland National Park and are a fantastic example of natural environments protected from the peaks of mountains to great depths of the fiords.

The marine reserves include a huge variety of habitats and species like sponges, lampshells, and a wide range of fish. They also contain some of the world's biggest populations of black coral trees that can be over 300 years old and are home to brittlestars that can only live entwined in the branches of these underwater trees.

Fiordland’s marine reserves protect relatively untouched areas to ensure that they stay that way into the future. This means that in some reserves there may be few observable changes with time, whereas in others there may be more noticeable changes. It will be a matter of waiting to see what will happen in each new reserve.

Ten reserves - ten different experiences

The ten reserves located within Fiordland are:

- Hawea (Clio Rocks) - 411 hectares

- Kahukura (Gold Arm) - 464 hectares

- Kutu Parera (Gaer Arm) - 433 hectares

- Moana Utu (Wet Jacket Arm) - 2007 hectares

- Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) - 690 hectares

- Taipari Road (Elizabeth Island) - 613 hectares

- Taumoana (Five Fingers Peninsula) - 1466 hectares

- Te Awaatu Channel (The Gut) - 93 hectares

- Te Hapua (Sutherland Sound) - 449 hectares

- Te Tapuwae o Hua (Long Sound) - 3762 hectares

Two of the ten reserves, Te Awaatu Channel (The Gut, Doubtful Sound) marine reserve and Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) marine reserve, were initially proposed by the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen and formally established in 1993. The other eight reserves were established in 2005 as part of the management measures proposed by the Guardians of Fiordland.


A delicate environment

The environment below the water in Fiordland is as unique as its acclaimed landscape above. Runoff from heavy rainfall on the mountains creates a permanent freshwater layer on the surface of the saltwater that varies in depth from 5 cm 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 support one of the world’s largest populations of black coral trees (about 7 million colonies), with some of them up to 200 years old. The fiords are also home to brachiopods; clam-like animals that have remained relatively unchanged for over 300 million years.

Although the fiords extend to depths of over 400 metres, life peters out quickly in the gloomy depths. The thin band of life extending around the shores of all 14 fiords is estimated to make up a habitat area of only 42 square kilometres, less than the area of Bluff Harbour on the Southland coast. Because of the small habitat area and the limited opportunity for exchange of material across moraine sills at the entrance to the fiords, these environments are vulnerable to over-fishing.

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