The reef systems off the coast of Motiti Island support a large range of plants and animals including fish and shellfish. In 2018 the Environment Court released an interim decision that found the outstanding attributes and values of these reef systems needed better protection.

On 24 April 2020, the Environment Court released its final decision which directs Bay of Plenty Regional Council to implement new rules within its Regional Coastal Environment Plan to protect three reef systems near Motiti Island and complete scientific monitoring to inform future integrated marine management solutions.

The new rules will create three protection areas (called the Motiti Protection Areas) around Motiti Island where the taking of all plants and animals (including fish and shellfish) would be prohibited due to their significant marine biodiversity, landscape and cultural values. Those three areas comprise of Ōtaiti (Astrolabe Reef); including Te Papa (Brewis Shoal), Te Porotiti, and O karapu Reef, Motuhaku Island (Schooner Rocks) and Motunau Island (Plate Island).

Next steps

There are a few last steps that need to be completed before the protection areas come into effect and the process may take several months. The Court mediated planning provisions received final approval by the Environment Court on 8 June 2020 and were adopted by the Regional Council on 25 June 2020 for approval by the Minister of Conservation.  They are currently with the Minister for approval.  The Minister’s involvement is a standard process to ensure regional councils are giving effect to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement and that all plan appeal matters are resolved.  Once approved by the Minister the planning approvals will be given an operative date and publicly notified by the Regional Council. 

In August 2020 we heard back from Ministry officials.  They advised Regional Council that they are still working on their advice to the Minister as it is a complex and unique case.  They will keep council informed as progress is made. 

The new rules have not been fully approved yet, so the rules will NOT apply this summer. The changes will not come into effect overnight once approved. Regional Council will provide a fair and reasonable notice of the start date. We will keep you posted.

We are working with tangata whenua and a number of groups in the community, including recreational and commercial fishing groups.  Planning for a public education campaign is underway and details of the protected areas and how people can help look after these reefs, will be in local papers, on boat ramp signage, on our website and social media. We are collaborating with other government agencies, including the Ministry for Primary Industries and Department of Conservation, for the best outcomes. We can all agree that the marine environment is worth protecting for future generations and by following the new rules, everyone can do their bit to protect these reefs and their ecosystems too.


The Regional Council will be conducting monitoring at the Motiti Protection Areas to determine if the protections put in place by the court are achieving the desired biodiversity outcomes. Are the Marine Protection Areas working?

Once confirmed, the first step in monitoring these areas is to establish a baseline – how does the ecology of these reefs look today, before the reefs are protected. This data will then be used for years to come as a reference point against which to assess changes in biodiversity that occur following the prohibition of the removal of flora and fauna, and assess the success of these fishing closures.

Some of the specific questions that we will be asking with our monitoring will include: how many kina occur in an area, how much rocky reef area is covered by kelp forest, and how many crayfish are there on each reef? Combined, this data will tell us about the condition of these environments.

Continued monitoring using the same methods over time will allow us to measure changes that may occur because of the protections. For example, the changes in crayfish numbers or the biodiversity associated with kelp forests. Ultimately, this will tell us if the Motiti Protection Areas are protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

This type of monitoring involves observing the natural environment, measuring key components (in this case biodiversity) and conducting analyses to determine how things are changing over time. Tools marine scientists may use include scuba diving equipment, cameras, drones, and quadrats (set 1 m2 areas) to monitor selected areas and species, as indicators of the state of the entire study area.


The interim decision indicated that the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), New Zealand's main piece of legislation which sets out how we should manage our environment, was the appropriate legislation for this to happen under. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council is responsible for implementing this legislation. When it comes to the coastal environment this is done through the Regional Coastal Environment Plan.

The use of the RMA to protect a marine environment, compared with the Fisheries Act 1986, was eventually debated in the High Court and later the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal released its landmark decisions in relation to this case on 4 November 2019. The decisions provide clarification to regional councils on their ability to manage indigenous biodiversity.

In summary the court found:

  • Regional Council can include rules in its Regional Coastal Environment Plan to manage the effects of fishing if it is for the purpose of maintaining indigenous biodiversity or other resource management purposes where there is evidence of adverse effects on values from fishing;
  • The ability of Council to apply controls is based on the maintaining of indigenous biodiversity and cultural values; and
  • In maintaining indigenous biodiversity, an objective assessment is required that includes consideration of necessity, type, scope, scale and location.

This means Council will only be able to apply controls in certain areas. It also means any new rules to protect indigenous marine biodiversity would require a considered approach, using research, include consultation with mana whenua and likely be run through a public plan process.

You can view the Court of Appeal decision here.

The coastal waters of the Bay of Plenty contain a diverse range of marine plants and animals. Which organisms live in any particular place depends on the type of seafloor, water clarity, depth, wave energy and how successfully these creatures compete with each other for food and space. In addition to competing, these marine organisms must also cope with the challenges of human activity and impacts such as sedimentation, pollution and fishing.

The new provisions direct Council to work alongside tāngata whenua on developing and completing scientific monitoring, which will include Mātauranga Māori. This is consistent with our Council Mātauranga Māori Framework which provides the framework for integrating Mātauranga into our mahi. Accordingly, we are committed to preparing a robust monitoring programme for the Motiti Protection Area (and the Motiti Natural Environment Management Area) which includes both Mātauranga Māori and Science. This work includes input from Māori Policy and Science Advisors.

This case has been through multiple Courts, addressed complex legal matters and created case law. The Environment Court based their final decision on a range of evidence provided by different people. It included information from marine scientists, fisheries experts, and those who hold cultural knowledge and Mātauranga Māori of this area. The Court of Appeal recognised the overlapping responsibilities between the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Act 1986 and provided clarity around how the two acts can work together. Regional Council has been directed to collaborate with other government agencies and tāngata whenua on future marine management solutions (for the Motiti Natural Environment Management Area) and this will provide better outcomes for the environment and community.

Public consultation

This is a unique and complex case, established by the Environment Court. As a result, there has not been specific public consultation, as the proposed protection areas were not part of the Regional Coastal Environment Plan when the last scheduled review and public consultation took place in 2015.

We are committed to providing clarity around what the outcome of this complex legal case means for our community and will be working with tāngata whenua and all stakeholders to make sure the new rules are well understood.

The case has been through multiple Courts, addressed complex legal matters and created case law. The Court of Appeal recognised the overlapping responsibilities between the Resource Management Act and the Fisheries Act and provided clarity around how the two acts can work together. We have been directed to collaborate with other government agencies and tāngata whenua on future marine management solutions and this will provide better outcomes for the environment and community.

At this stage, we are focusing on how to effectively implement the Motiti Protection Area as directed by the Environment Court. We are looking forward to working collectively with the Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, Department of Internal Affairs, tāngata whenua and other key stakeholders on how to protect the outstanding attributes and values of these reef systems going forward. As mentioned above, collaboration may lead to an earlier plan change to consider a range of marine management tools to protect the existing high values of the area. It is worth noting that any earlier plan changes need to be funded and underpinned with new scientific evidence to support any proposed changes or new management tools, and the community will have an opportunity to participate through public consultation.

We do understand peoples’ frustration with how this unique decision has come about and any future process will include public consultation, run by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and submissions will be invited to provide further depth to the discussions.

Reef off Motiti Island
Kina, nudibranch, and blue maomao found off Motiti Island's reef.

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24 Oct 2019


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