ECO logo Spirits Bay, Cape Reinga: unique underwater world being lost
There is an extraordinary community of marine invertebrates off the very northern tip of New Zealand which is under serious threat from trawling and previously has been much damaged by scallop dredging.

At risk are unique assemblages of marine invertebrates containing at least 23 species which are rare or very rare and  of which 16 species are not found anywhere else in the world but the area in question.

Located at Spirits Bay and Tom Bowling Bay, off Cape Reinga on the northern tip of the north island of New Zealand, the species and assemblages are thought to be so extraordinary because they live in the spot where very fast currents sweeping across the ocean encounter the tip of New Zealand.  Spirits Bay is of immense spiritual significance to Maori because it is the launching place for the dead to the next world.

This is what the scientists who noticed the extraordinary biota have to say (the quotes are from O'Shea and Cryer's report, NIWA, 1998): ".soft sediment communities off Spirits Bay are characterised by two distinct assemblages of sponge and hydroid taxa. Moreover, 23 species occur off Spirits Bay that are of an exceptionally rare nature, three probably belong in new genera and 16 are probably new to science (new species)" (from O'Shea and Cryer's report, Spirits Bay Revisited, National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

"Overall the soft-sediment invertebrate faunas off Spirits Bay between 30-60 metres depth are amongst the most unique and biogeographically diverse faunas of their kind throughout New Zealand waters. Comparable depth horizons throughout the rest of the surveyed region along the Northland East Coast do not support any fauna remotely similar to that known from Spirits Bay."

"Without further delay the entire offshore soft-sediment environments of Sprits Bay between 30-60 metres depth (and probably beyond) are in immediate need of reserve designation to protect the unique bottom ecosystem from the inescapable deterioration caused by bottom-dredging [or trawling] activities." The report notes that the species identified were found only by using a box dredge sample-used for scallop harvesting normally and that a thorough study of the biodiversity is required.

Despite the scientists warning that: "In no way are we premature in voicing concern that any continuation of bottom-dredging activity off Spirits Bay will irreparably damage the environment and probably lead to multiple species extinction", (O'Shea and Cryer, NIWA, 1997) the area still has not been given adequate protection by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries.

I can't imagine that anywhere on land the damage to and loss of one, let alone 16 endemic species could be treated so casually by our officials - but the Ministry of Fisheries has been slow in doing anything about it.  By any terrestrial standard biodiversity of the significance of this area would unquestionably have protection.

We have copies of  draft reports from 1997 and 1998 on the 1996 and 1997 investigations  - they document the species and communities and it is unequivocally extraordinary - but the arrangements here between the Ministry of Fisheries and the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere mean that nothing has been properly published and so while the information is there it is not being used in policy except in so far as we are pressuring for change.

We urge you to join us in asking the New Zealand government to ensure the protection of this internationally significant find by enacting a complete closure of the area while the extent of the unique communities present is assessed.

Write expressing your concern to :

Rt. Honorable Jenny Shipley
Prime Minister
Parliament Buildings
New Zealand

For more information contact:

Cath Wallace
Marine Coordinator
PO Box 11-057
New Zealand