Kāpiti Marine Reserve


The Kāpiti Marine Reserve (KMR) is a popular and well-used recreational, scientific and educational resource for the Kāpiti coast and the wider region. It is one of ten Marine Reserves which have been designated as “Coastal Gems” under a DOC/Air New Zealand partnership.

It was established in 1992 to protect Kāpiti’s unique, indigenous marine biodiversity and to assist the local marine environment and fish stocks to recover from decades of over fishing and other human impacts.

KMR is New Zealand’s 4th oldest marine reserve and is also one of NZ’s largest coastal marine reserves at over 2200 hectares.

The reserve was established as a result of a collaboration between the Department of Conservation (DOC), the local community and mana whenua from the 3 local iwi.  It had its gestation in an informal reserve being established by the local Kāpiti Boating Club in 1987 and Kāpiti Marine Reserve was formally gazetted in May 1992.  It will be the 30th anniversary of the reserve in 2022, which is a significant milestone in the reserve’s history.

Three of the four distinctive habitats types identified in the original Battershill et.al baseline survey are represented within the KMR containing silt, sand and gravel, narrow boulder-rock reefs with patches of sand and moderate seaweed cover, and extensive boulder reefs and large blocks of rock at headlands. The largest known Rhodolith beds in NZ are found within the eastern part of KMR and the surrounding marine area.

Recent detailed undersea habitat mapping work carried out jointly by NIWA, DOC, LINZ and VUW over 100 square kilometres of the Kāpiti marine area suggest there may be up to 18 distinct habitat types within the wider Kāpiti marine area. Further work is required to ascertain which habitat types are represented within KMR.

Since its establishment, there have been significant increases in the abundance and biomass of several important commercial and recreational fish species both inside and outside the reserve. These have been detailed in a recent publication: “Massive differential site-specific and species-specific responses of temperate reef fishes to marine reserve protection” by Tyler D. Eddy, Anjali Pande, Jonathan P.A. Gardner in Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 1, 2014: 13–2

Of particular note is the observation of a greater abundance and biomass of key recreational fish species such as butterfish at monitoring sites outside of the reserve indicating a ‘spill over’ effect with more and larger fish available for recreational fishers to catch outside of the reserve compared with 25-30 years ago. This is the first time such a ‘spill over’ effect has been documented and demonstrates the benefit to the local fishing community that the reserve is providing.

Threats to Kāpiti marine reserve include illegal fishing, terrestrial/land based catchment development – particularly increased sediment, nutrient and contaminant inputs – and overfishing and the use of destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling within the wider coastal and marine area.

For more information see the Department of Conservation website