Potential effects

The growth and expanding influence of marine recreation and tourism is now well recognised in New Zealand. For example, NIWA noted (in 2012) that ecotourism is a growing industry in the nearshore waters around New Zealand and is already starting to expand into the Exclusive Economic Zone and extended continental shelf. 2920  Similarly, a study commissioned by the Department of Conservation also identified the increasing importance of the coast and near-shore coastal waters of New Zealand as resources for recreation and tourism. 2921

Historically, most of New Zealand’s marine environment has been protected from intensive recreational and tourist use by its inaccessibility. This has changed over the past four decades and almost all parts of New Zealand’s coastal environment are now accessible for recreation. While this has created opportunities for New Zealanders and visitors to the country, it has also resulted in increased environmental effects. While recreation and tourism may appear to be relatively benign and an inherently more sustainable use of natural resources than extractive activities such as fishing or deep sea mining, it is irrefutable that coastal and marine recreation and tourism does have environmental impacts. 2922  The continued growth in scale and distribution of this sector will, therefore, be accompanied by increasing environmental impacts. 2923

However, it is also important to recognise that there is huge potential for activities to be developed and managed in a way that have a positive impact on the very environment they rely upon. 2924  Marine and coastal recreation and tourism can also, potentially, foster a greater appreciation for the importance of marine environment and result in human actions that may benefit the ecosystem they depend on.

The table below provides a summary of the main environmental impacts caused by different recreation and tourism activities in the marine environment.

Main Environmental Impacts from Tourism in the Marine Environment

The following sections discuss in more detail the main environmental impacts caused by different recreation and tourism activities in the marine environment.


In terms of environmental impacts, swimming is generally a benign activity. However, there is an increasing demand for infrastructure such as shops and toilets, to enable people to swim at the beaches. While people are swimming they can also disturb the local wildlife, trample on seabed habitats, leave rubbish behind and cause conflicts with other users such as fishers and surfers. Swimming provides many people with a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment and as such delivers some valuable positive physiological benefits.

Surfing, board sailing, kite boarding, stand-up-paddle boarding, surf skiing

For many people it is hard to imagine that surfing might have negative impacts on the environment.  However, there are a number of impacts, in particular accelerated erosion due to vehicle and foot traffic from surfers traversing over dunes and other sensitive coastal locations to access desired surf breaks. In addition, there are issues over increasing demand for infrastructure, disturbance of local wildlife, trampling on seafloor environments, leaving rubbish behind and competing uses with other existing recreational uses. Direct contributions to climate change through using vehicles and boats to access remote surf locations, and through the production of surfing equipment, is an increasing concern for people involved in this activity. There is effort now being placed on reducing the impact of surfing on greenhouse gas levels.

There are certainly psychological benefits from surfing with improvements to people’s well-being, health and fitness and there are also proven economic gains from surfing. South Stradbroke Island in Australia is worth an estimated US$20.7 million ($30 million) per year, via the 11,500 surfers who visit the island 64,000 times each year. 2926  

The conflict between surfers and other users of the marine environment is an intense one that has played itself out in the Environment Court. One of the most well-known conflicts is the controversy over the Whangamatā Marina where local surfers were fighting to protect high quality surf breaks from the damage that would be incurred by dredging to provide vessel access to a marina to provide safe harbour for recreational boaters and fishers.

There has also been much controversy over the artificial surf reefs which have been built along some parts of New Zealand’s coast, for example:

  • Mount Maunganui submerged reef, the first of its kind, is now set to be removed just a decade after it was constructed in the early 2000s. It was hoped that the reef would provide world-class surfing waves and attract new economic development into the area. But the reef has never functioned as it was intended and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council recently decided to remove the reef because it was altering coastal processes, changing currents and exacerbating risks to swimmers in the area. 2927
  • In 2006 construction began on an artificial reef 250 metres offshore from Ōpunake Beach in Taranaki. The work involved pumping sand into geotextile bags to create a wave-making reef. Work was never completed and in 2011 the South Taranaki District Council voted to restore the Ōpunake headland to its original state. 2928

Diving and snorkelling

Most people who enjoy diving and snorkelling, have an inherent passion for the marine environment, and in general the sport of diving and snorkelling has minimal adverse impacts. These activities certainly have a number of positive benefits, including improved wellbeing and health, economic benefits for a local community through special dive sites and educational opportunities. New Zealand’s marine reserves, such as the Poor Knights Islands, are a prime spot for divers and snorkelers to learn about the marine environment and how to protect it.

The easy access that divers and snorkelers have to the marine environment can provide positive benefits, including protection of resources, raising awareness and education. An example is the Project AWARE Foundation, established by PADI as a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving the aquatic environment and improving environmental outcomes. The work of such organisations and groups is discussed further in the section on best practice.

There are, however, a number of challenges facing the industry. Snorkelling and diving practices can disturb wildlife, and damage marine plants and animals, through trampling or crushing by a person’s body, fins and equipment. Snorkelers, in particular, enjoy fish feeding which can change the natural behaviour and diet of fish species. This can be particularly problematic in fragile environments. The anchoring of dive boats can inflict potential damage on the seabed ecology. Areas of seagrasses and reefs are particularly vulnerable.

Rubbish can be left behind in marine environments by snorkelers and divers. Moving dive equipment or support vessels from one site to another can encourage the spread of pest plants and animals thereby posing a biosecurity risk. Other negative effects include diver-induced behavioural changes (e.g. fish feeding), damage or destruction of sub-tidal benthic species (e.g. repeated dislodgement) and impacts on water quality through stirring up sediments and benthos. These activities can have an increasing impact on remote environments through improved access to offshore islands.

People will often snorkel or dive to gather shellfish and harvest fish and crayfish, and in some cases this can result in over harvesting of resources, particularly those that are close to shore or vulnerable from gathering pressure. The recreational fishing rules put in place by the Ministry for Primary Industries, 2929  such as gear restrictions, maximum catch limits and minimum size limits, are designed to help reduce the pressure on fish stocks from recreational harvesting. But illegal harvesting is made easier by the use of snorkelling and diving equipment, especially of shellfish like paua and kina. Direct contributions to climate change through using boats and production of dive equipment (because of the types of materials used in the production and the emissions from transportation) is an increasing concern for people involved in diving and snorkelling. Some companies are focusing on ways to reduce the impact of diving on greenhouse gas levels.


Boating has a number of positive impacts. Improving people’s wellbeing and quality of life is most certainly one and the other would be the economic value of the boating industry, especially for local communities in smaller regions. However, as recreational and tourism boating continues to increase in popularity, it is important that the impact this activity can have on the marine area is well understood.

Biofouling and ballast water are the greatest contributors to the domestic spread of invasive marine pests (discussed further in Chapter 5: Marine biosecurity). Hull fouling of recreational vessels, from both international visiting boats and vessels moving around the country, is also responsible for enabling pests to arrive in New Zealand or to spread further. For example, In November 2013 a recreational boat infested with the unwanted marine sea squirt Styela clava, was found berthed in Tauranga Harbour. It was the second boat with the sea squirt attached to its hull that had been found in Tauranga Harbour during the previous month. Both boats had been brought down from Auckland, where the sea squirt had become established, without prior cleaning of their hulls. 2930

Wharves, jetties and marinas typically attract large numbers of people and boats that, in turn, have the potential for discharges into the marine area – including fuel spillage, sewage from boat toilets, rubbish and leaching of antifouling paints which contain toxic chemicals.  The parking and boat washing areas found at marinas may also be a source of contaminated runoff into the sea if they are not appropriately managed. Elevated heavy metal concentrations have been found in seabed sediments in the vicinity of marinas. 2931

Increased noise, both from engines and propellers, and the boats themselves can have impacts on marine life, and of increasing concern is the potential impact from fish-finders and sonar depth sounders. The impact of reliable and relatively cheap marine navigation systems makes favoured habitats easily locatable and shared with others, so scallop beds, schooling fish, habitats suitable for crayfish and other good fishing spots are now found easily.

Waste and sewage management is a big concern for the boating community, particularly as access to remote and pristine locations is becoming much easier. The way that boat owners dispose of rubbish and fish waste can be a contentious issue. Regional councils have created rules to control the disposal of sewage from boats, because it can significantly contribute to the contamination of coastal waterways, particularly in crowded anchorages. Larger boats tend to have on-board holding tanks which are discharged far out to sea. But the vast majority of the smaller boats have no such facility. So whilst there may be rules in place to prevent it happening, raw human sewage is often discharged directly into some of this country’s most beautiful bays and harbours

Other impacts from boating on the marine environment include wildlife disturbance, including the disturbance of flocking, resting or feeding birds, disruption of roost sites (e.g. shag roost sites in overhanging trees and on cliffs), disturbance of larger marine animals (e.g. marine mammals and sharks) and accidental deaths of seabirds (e.g. little blue penguins). Increasing ocean noise levels and ship strike as a result of recreational boating can impact on marine mammals (this is discussed further in the section on vessels). Regulations prescribe good boat behaviour around marine mammals.

The impact of anchoring on seafloor communities is becoming an increasing concern. The Department of Conservation produced a report in 2006 2932  which stated that one of the most direct adverse effects on seagrass beds is the damage caused by recreational boating activities (e.g. cutting by propellers, propeller wash, anchor and mooring damage and boat groundings) which may result in significant, localised impacts on the physical integrity of seagrasses. The potentially long-term negative impacts of recreational boating activities on seagrass habitats has been recognised internationally, and the cumulative impacts can lead to the large-scale loss of seagrass beds from heavily trafficked areas. 2933

There are direct contributions to climate change through using boats, particularly the use of diesel and petrol, and production of boating equipment. In efforts to mitigate this, products are continually arriving on the market that are designed to minimise the impact of boating on greenhouse gas levels. Other issues include the conflict of vessel traffic with other users. Swimmers in shallow areas are often concerned about their safety and it is for this reason that there are clear rules about the speed that boats can travel in certain areas.

The growth in recreational boating drives demand for marinas, boat ramps and other large marine infrastructure which can have very significant impacts on the marine environment. This is discussed in the section on major marine developments, which includes a case study on Westhaven Marina in Auckland.

Recreational fishing 

Recreational fishing brings a number of positive impacts, including improving people’s wellbeing and quality of life as well as the economic value of the recreational fishing industry. However, there are negative impacts from this activity. Recreational fishing allowances are set as part of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), which is a component of the Quota Management System (QMS). The Ministry for Primary Industries sets and enforces recreational fishing rules for key species, such as snapper and trevally, including bag and catch limits, potting and netting methods, types of equipment that can be used and the restricted or closed areas. These are all intended to constrain the catch within the QMS allowance and manage impacts of fishing on associated species.

Controlling and estimating the recreational fishing catch is challenging for a number of reasons, including: the country’s huge coastline; sparse population; large number of species targeted; large number of recreational fishing boats; the methods used; and the small research budgets available. Fishery compliance officers work around the coastline and are the point of contact for any phone calls to the Ministry about people taking too much or an undersized catch.

Surveys are periodically conducted to estimate the quantity and type of species caught. For some fish stocks, the recreational take represents a large proportion of the total catch, 2934  such as with the blue cod fishery in the Marlborough Sounds and the snapper fishery in the Hauraki Gulf. There is a paucity of information in New Zealand about the impact of recreational fishing on the marine environment. According to researchers in 2010, data extrapolated from interviews with fishers, suggests that the accidental catch of seabirds and threatened marine mammals in New Zealand’s non-commercial fisheries is a “problem that deserves more focused attention in the context of species conservation”. The Minister intends to focus on this issue when developing the next Inshore Finfish Annual Operational Plan.

In New Zealand’s recreational fisheries, seabirds have been recorded being caught during hook and line fishing and in set nets. 2935  In July 2002, Southern Seabird Solutions was formed in an effort to develop and promote sustainable and responsible fishing practices in both the commercial and recreational sector. This work is included as a case study in Chapter 9: Management of fisheries (which is addressing commercial fisheries).

Scientific research suggests that, when recreational fishers target larger fish, they may be having a disproportionately negative effect on the fish population. This is due to the removal of the larger and older fish, which can produce a far greater number of eggs than smaller fish, and which have a higher reproductive success rate. This ultimately decreases the ability of the species to reproduce, resulting in lower productivity over the longer term. 2936  Recreational fishing can disturb marine wildlife, increase ocean noise and result in ship strike on marine mammals. Many of the environmental impacts relating to boating discussed above are also relevant to the recreational fishing sector, including biosecurity, anchor damage, rubbish, sewage and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, conflicts with other users of the marine environment are becoming increasing contentious.

Marine mammal and seabird interactions

The NIWA risk assessment of activities in the New Zealand EEZ prepared for the Ministry for the Environment in 2012 identified that tourists were seeking close surface and underwater encounters with megafauna or densely shoaling smaller species. The assessment also noted the trend for charter boats to carry camera systems or remotely operated vehicles capable of encountering and viewing spectacular underwater scenery in the deep ocean. These trends are likely to increase over the next 20-30 years. 2937

Swimming with dolphins, shark dive encounters and similar activities, all have the capacity to disturb surface and shallow subsurface species. The NIWA risk assessment noted that the area of habitat likely to be affected at any one time is very small and the risk to ecosystem functioning is probably negligible. However, the risks to individual protected species and key species may be higher and affected individuals or populations may take months to recover. 2938

When the first marine mammal tourism permits were granted in the Bay of Islands, no-one knew how many dolphins were actually present in the Bay, so it was not possible to make informed decisions about the level of pressure on them. The only information available was from sighting data provided by the dolphin-watching operators themselves. 2939

More recently, research has provided clear evidence of a number of impacts from recreation and tourism on marine mammals, including: 2940

  • Disturbance to behaviour – There is a large amount of research demonstrating how tourist activity can disturb the behaviour of marine mammals. For example, the presence of tourist boats around dolphins in the Bay of Islands, the Hauraki Gulf, Mercury Bay, Bay of Plenty and Kaikōura, has been shown to reduce the time the dolphins spend foraging and resting. Instead, more time was spent milling and socialising. In addition, it took longer for the dolphins to return to a resting or foraging state, having been interrupted by tour boats, than if they were interrupted by other vessels.
  • Negative impacts on successful rearing of young - There is some evidence to indicate that animals which are unable to forage and rest in the normal way, may experience a reduced energy budget, which in turn makes it less likely that they will be able to breed successfully and rear healthy calves. Higher calf mortality can result. High calf mortality rates have been documented in bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands and in Fiordland. 2941
  • Avoidance of habitat - The presence of tourist boats may cause some species to avoid the areas of their natural habitat where they are pursued. In general, dolphins will avoid boats either by diving vertically or by avoiding their path horizontally. A recent population study on bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands has indicated that fewer dolphins are now present, possibly because they have begun to avoid the area which is frequented by large numbers of tour and recreational boats. In addition, fewer bottlenose dolphins are now present in Milford Sound during the busy summer tourism season.
  • Varying degrees of impacts - Some marine mammal species and populations are more susceptible to disruption by tourism than others. For example, the large pod sizes and night-time feeding behaviours of the dusky dolphin mean that the impacts of tourism are less than those on the smaller groups of bottlenose dolphins which forage during the day.

A lack of a robust scientific understanding about the size and range of marine mammal populations has contributed to the difficulty in managing the cumulative impacts of different tourism operations. For example, permits were granted for bottlenose dolphin interactions at multiple locations along the north-east coast of the North Island, before it was fully understood that they were all targeting the same population of dolphins that ranged along the area. While there are similarities in the impact of marine mammal tourism across different species and locations, each scenario entails different challenges. In addition, in some locations there can be cumulative effects, when tourism impacts on marine mammals are combined with those created by other activities. For example, in Doubtful Sound, the decline in the bottlenose dolphin population is thought to be a result of a combination of factors including increasing boat tourism, historical commercial fishing activity and increased discharges of freshwater into the marine area from the Manapōuri Power Station outfall. 2942

Ships moving through the water can hit marine mammals and fish and injure or kill them. Ship strike happens because dolphins and especially whales are moving much slower than vessels and spend considerable time on the surface, which can put them directly in the path of boats. The greatest number of whale deaths from ship strike is caused by large ships travelling at more than 10 knots. This is discussed further in Chapter 15: Vessels. The propellers of recreational boats can cause considerable damage when they strike dolphins, as evidenced by a number of animals which sport distinctive propeller scars on their fins and bodies.

Special events and sporting contents

Major events and contents held on the coast play an important economic and social role in the community. The negative impacts that come with them, such as rubbish, trampling and disturbance of wildlife, can be well controlled by the managers of the event.

General coastal and beach activities

Many of the impacts of more general coastal and beach activities are fairly benign on an individual basis, such as trampling and rubbish generation. But when these are looked at from a cumulative perspective they can have a serious impact on the coastal and marine environment. Trampling of dune vegetation can contribute to coastal erosion through the destruction of the native sand-binding plants. Cars and motorbikes being driven on beaches and sand dunes can damage important native vegetation and fauna (such as spiders, shorebirds and skinks). 

Holiday homes

Coastal land has huge financial implications for New Zealand. Most significant is the tens of billions of dollars of capital investment in coastal real estate. New Zealand’s coastal properties, both primary residences and holiday homes, have grown in value to represent the largest capital investment by New Zealanders in any asset.

As coastal property has become more valuable, the affordability of coastal recreational opportunities has become a challenge for many. Many coastal campgrounds have closed and the coastal properties they once occupied been sold for private property development (a good example is the campground at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula). Similarly, the popularity of some coastal towns has resulted in local price inflation (including rates or property taxes) to a point where some local residents are no longer able to afford to live in the area. Displacement of residents and holiday makers from a number of coastal locations has been a common, economically driven change (examples include Waiheke Island, Raglan, Mangawhai Heads, Whangamatā and Kaikōura).

Cruise ships

There has been a steady increase in the number of cruise ships entering New Zealand waters in the past decade. The NIWA risk assessment noted the increasing access of tourist ships into the subantarctic islands and the Ross Sea as remote cruising destinations. All vessels travelling to New Zealand (including pleasure craft) need to meet a number of requirements before and on arrival to ensure New Zealand’s environment, economy and people are protected from imported pests and diseases. 2943

A very important matter is the management of ballast water and biofouling. The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently issued the Craft Risk Management Standard for Biofouling on Vessels Arriving to New Zealand. This Standard applies to all vessels that have come from, or recently visited coastal waters of another country. This Standard is discussed further in Chapter 15: Vessels. Ballast water treatment systems, that can be retrofitted to cruise ships, are currently being tested. Some cruise lines need to wait for the technology to be certified in a country they visit before fitting. There have been some promising developments in new antifoul paint systems, which are less damaging to the environment, and some of the larger cruise boats are switching over to new non-biocidal hull paints.

Food scraps are either kept in bins on board cruise ships for discharge as quarantine waste ashore, under Ministry for Primary Industries supervision, or are burnt in incinerators whilst out at sea. All food-contaminated waste or plastics are discharged under Ministry for Primary Industries supervision as quarantine waste for treatment. Where possible, cardboard, glass, waste cooking oil and scrap metal are sent ashore under Ministry for Primary Industries supervision for recycling. However not all New Zealand ports can handle waste recycling, in which case waste is either stored on ships until they arrive in Auckland, or discharged at Australian ports.

Waste fuel oil and sludge from cruise ships is retained on board in ships’ tanks and only discharged at approved New Zealand ports through approved waste oil contractors. The contractors receive the waste oil from the ship, separate the oil and water at their plant, and reuse the oil for local industry consumption. Most cruise ships have sophisticated grey and black water treatment plants, or holding tanks with filters, which remove all or nearly all of the toxic waste and sewage. The treated liquid is pumped out at sea more than 12 miles off land. The residue is compacted and either incinerated at sea or disposed of ashore.

Ships accidently striking marine mammals can be a concern for the cruise ship industry. This is discussed above in the section on marine mammal interactions.

Social and economic benefits

Utilisation of the sea and coastal zone provides enormous benefits for people. These benefits can be personal in terms of enhanced mental and physical health and simple ‘enjoyment of life’. They can also be social; most people interact with others during their recreational activities in the coastal zone.

Health and safety in the coastal environment is also an issue. Examples include New Zealand’s high skin cancer rates, high incidences of drowning and accidents and resulting injuries. In addition, use of the coast and sea has resulted in conflict and there are coastal locations that have become re-known for crime and anti-social behaviour.

For Māori, Te Moana provides a connection with ancestral homelands and has spiritual significance, being intertwined with legends and historical accounts. The Māori worldview and cosmology is closely linked with important concepts drawn from and related to the sea. Furthermore, the sea and coastal areas have historically and, in many cases, continue to provide important taonga (cultural treasures) and resources (such as kaimoana) for Māori. This is discussed further in Chapter 4: Kaitiakitanga.

For almost all New Zealanders; Māori, Pakeha and more recent arrivals from other cultures and ethnicities, the sea has great influence on lifestyles, self-perception and behaviour. This is particularly the case for the many New Zealanders for whom particular marine recreational activities have strong multi-generational traditions and which define their “Kiwi lifestyle”. Fishing and sea-food gathering, surfing, sailing, diving, beach-cricket and the like are strong family holiday traditions or activities which New Zealanders consider not only an integral part of their lifestyle but their ‘birth-right’. These connections are deeply felt and fiercely protected as evidenced by the protests and actions taken whenever attempts are made to restrict access to coastal and marine resources or to impose financial charges for access to those resources.

Economic effects, in addition to those associated with holiday homes, are created by direct expenditure on coastal and marine recreational equipment and experiences. There are a wide range of commercial marine recreation and tourism businesses which contribute financially to coastal communities. These broader effects are the most important economic influences for a multitude of coastal locations around New Zealand and they are significant nationally. However, they are not well recognised because they are impossible to quantify accurately. It is also important to understand that not all economic effects can be considered positive. For example, equity of opportunity and access to coastal and marine recreational opportunities are an increasingly important issue.

  1. NIWA, 2012

  2. Cessford G, et al, 2012

  3. Orams, M B and M Lück, in press

  4. Smith R A, 2007

  5. Orams, M B and M Lück, in press

  6.  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10912395

  7. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11239213

  8. http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/5456452/Money-for-surf-reef-a-wipeout

  9. http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/MFish+Apps/default.htm

  10. http://www.boprc.govt.nz/news-centre/media-releases/media-releases-2013/november-2013/plea-for-boaties-to-prevent-spread-of-marine-pests/

  11. http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/SiteCollectionDocuments/aboutcouncil/planspoliciespublications/technicalpublications/TR2012033Antifoulingbiocidesinmarinas.pdf

  12. Turner S and A Schwarz, 2006

  13. Turner S and A Schwarz, 2006

  14. https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/ser/enz07-dec07/html/chapter11-oceans/page3.html

  15. Ministry for Primary Industries, 2013

  16. Birkeland C and P K Dayton, 2005

  17. NIWA, 2012

  18. NIWA, 2012

  19. Mulcahy K and R Peart, 2012

  20. Mulcahy K and R Peart, 2012

  21. Peart R, 2013

  22. Mulcahy K and R Peart, 2012

  23. http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/enter/ships

Last updated at 2:11PM on February 25, 2015