Maritime NZ is helping protect our marine environment with a campaign against ships encroaching into the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve off Northland.
A total of 19 infringement notices were handed out last year for ships that illegally entered the reserve. Fishing is prohibited and ships longer than 45 metres are banned from the designated “area to be avoided”.
This includes the Poor Knights marine reserve - which is a mecca for divers and nature buffs with its sea caves and rock stacks, and abundant fish and shellfish species.
Maritime NZ Specialist Investigator Nick Dowden says the Maritime Operations Centre actively monitors the almost 80 kilometre-long area between the Bay of Islands and Whangarei, which extends up to 35 kilometres from the east coast of Northland.
A digital geo-fence alerts the centre to ships entering. Crews are then contacted by maritime radio and instructed that the ship must leave by the shortest and safest route.
Last year 19 infringement notices were issued, compared to five the year before and 10 in 2015.
Mr Dowden says “we want ship operators, masters and navigators to understand that this area is protected for a reason, and we take transgressions against the environment very seriously. As the regulator for the maritime sector, we are responsible for helping keep our seas safe, secure and clean; and we will take compliance action if need be.”
He says the offenders are generally the operators of visiting cargo ships, which navigate a direct line down the east coast of Northland to save time and cost - rather than diverting around the reserve.
“Poor Knights is one of only two areas to be avoided in New Zealand and our data shows that commercial ships are more likely to enter this area than the other Three Kings Islands Marine Reserve. Breaches can land the operator of the vessel with a $12,000 fine and the master can be fined $2000.”