Marine Volunteering at Goat Island Marine Reserve

Goat Island is the oldest Marine Reserve in New Zealand. It is doing well, but there's a lot to be done to preserve its natural abundance and beauty.

Only 1.5 hours drive north of Auckland you can discover a true marine treasure of New Zealand: At Goat Island Marine Reserve you won't find many goats these days, but you can snorkel, kayak or swim in pristine, clear waters with a 20-pound Snapper and see an abundance of Stingrays, who are absolutely majestic under water. On a typical snorkel or dive you might spot Leather Jackets, Blue Cod, Crayfish, Goatfish and the wonderful Blue Maomao and many other colourful fish. The Island is named after the goats released by early European seafarers, to provide food for those who became marooned.

Goat Island is the oldest marine reserve in New Zealand

It was established in 1975 and covers 547 hectares of shore and sea. Marine reserves in New Zealand have a ban on all fishing and poaching from the area surrounding the island, but can be used for recreational purposes. During those 40 years of protection the surrounding waters of Goat Island have gained a huge diversity of marine life.

Dangers to the reserve

Although the Marine Reserve is doing well, it is not completely resilient. The invisible boundaries marking the marine reserve do not protect it from activity from the surrounding land.  Algal blooms can take place when sediment and nutrient run off from agricultural activities, enters the ocean. A high amount of nutrients (can occur from excess fertilisers being added to paddocks or if grazing stock are allowed access to waterways) in the water provides an over-abundance of food for phyto (plant) plankton resulting in a bloom. When the phytoplankton reaches its’ population peak (usually due to lack of food/nutrients) it dies off.  As this occurs bacteria break it down which significantly decreases the available oxygen in the water, which sometimes leads to fatality of some marine species, particularly of those with high oxygen needs such as paua (abalone).

Marine research activities undertaken by the local lab at Goat Island, which is part of the University of Auckland, help to understand the cause and effect of the threats to this fragile environment and what actions need to be taken to improve the situation.

Fish and other marine life can also be affected by human interaction. For a long time it was ok to feed snapper frozen peas, but scientists found changes in the fish’s’ behaviour. When diving or snorkeling fish would approach and come very close and sometimes act aggressively as they started to associate humans with food. This didn’t last very long as the Government put a ban on feeding fish in marine reserves.

Protection of the reserve

Precautions have been put in place to protect the reserve from land as well. There are conservationist activities like tree planting around the reserve to prevent some of the run off and increase native bird activity in the area. Strict rules are also in place to reduce litter and damage to any aspect of the reserve.

Looking after Marine Reserves in New Zealand is vital to the ocean’s health especially with the high intensity of commercial fishing happening in our waters, depleting diversity and being a threat to a balanced eco system. The reserve acts as a safe haven where fish can increase their numbers and live relatively naturally with not much influence from humans. Protecting our Marine Reserves is a vital step to secure some of the precious marine life in New Zealand for future generations.

You can help

Blue Voluntours offers overnight and day trips to Goat Island Marine Reserve. With a Goat Island Eco Tour you stay overnight at the reserve, get involved in marine research with the marine biologist at the Goat Island Discovery Centre, do some conservationist work and enjoy the pristine location and scenery. The aim of Blue Voluntours is to give people the opportunity to get involved in marine conservation while visiting New Zealand. Aotearoa’s costal & marine beauty is amazing, but we need to take further actions to improve and protect this environment. 

Come and join us! Make a difference during your holiday!

Authors: Holley Langley/Marea Goode

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