The government has announced plans for six new marine reserves between Timaru and the Catlins, expected to come into force in the middle of next year.
A 'kelp protection' area and five 'type-2 marine protection' areas have also been proposed.
Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime and Oceans and Fisheries Minister Rachel Brooking announced the move in Dunedin on Thursday morning.
They said the new reserves would increase the area protected around mainland New Zealand by more than two-thirds, and bring the total number of marine reserves in New Zealand to 50.
However, they would be set up through an Order in Council and gazetting process, which was likely to not be complete until mid-2024. An incoming government could potentially decide to scrap them after this month's election.
These were the first marine reserves for the south-east of the South Island, and would protect habitats for species including hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin, toroa/northern royal albatross, pakake/NZ sealion, brittle stars, squat lobster, kōura, shrimps, crabs, sponges, sea squirts, and reef fishes, the ministers said.
From north to south, the reserves include:
- Waitaki Marine Reserve, 101km2
- Te Umu Kōau Marine Reserve, 98km2
- Papanui Marine Reserve, 168km2
- Ōrau Marine Reserve, 29km2
- Ōkaihae Marine Reserve, 5km2
- Hākinikini Marine Reserve, 6km2
Marine reserves allow for activities like boating, snorkelling and diving but do not allow collection or fishing of any seafood.
The five proposed type-2 marine protection areas included just south of Timaru, the coastline between Waimate and Oamaru, offshore from Dunedin, and much smaller areas near Milton and Papatowai. The type-2 areas provide a lower level of protection with some taking of seafood allowed.
Brooking said the six marine reserves were the first step in creating a network of marine protection in the area which had support from 90 percent of the 4000 submissions.
Prime said local communities had worked hard on the project for more than a decade.
Provisions had also been made for Kāi Tahu to continue to access the marine reserve areas for retrieving koiwi tākata (ancestral remains), artefacts and marine mammal remains, and carrying out practices that enhanced their mātauraka Māori (traditional knowledge), and they would continue to manage the reserves alongside the Department of Conservation, she said.
"I acknowledge Kāi Tahu - as kaitiaki for this spectacular coast - for their engagement in the shaping of the new marine reserves."
In a statement, Kāi Tahu welcomed the announcement, saying it reflected the cultural significance of the moana.
"This ensures we can uphold our cultural traditions and retain an intergenerational connection with our moana, without alienating our whānau from their ancestral fisheries, like what has happened when other marine reserves have been established," Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu deputy kaiwhakahaere Matapura Ellison said.
"Our customary commercial fishing rights will likely be affected by the new marine reserves, but we have made a pragmatic decision to support the protection of the network for the benefit of all New Zealanders."
Upoko o Ōtākou Rūnaka Edward Ellison said they were looking forward to co-managing the reserves alongside the Crown and the community.
The reserves would be assessed every five years, with an extensive generational review to be undertaken every 25 years, they said. They called for the Marine Reserves Act 1971 to also be reviewed so it would not take nine years to negotiate protections in future.
WWF New Zealand chief executive Kayla Kingdon-Bebb also welcomed the new reserves in a statement.
"Otago is the only region in the entire country without a marine protected area, despite being home to some of our most endangered wildlife," Dr Kingdon-Bebb said.
"We know that setting aside areas to protect and sustain our native species and their habitats is necessary for the health and wellbeing of people and nature. To turn the tide on biodiversity loss, we need at least 30 percent of our ocean placed in well-managed highly protected areas."
She said a "dramatic overhaul" of the Act would be required to achieve the 30 percent target.
The announcement follows the government's August proposal for 19 new protection areas for the Hauraki Gulf, which would ban bottom-trawling in those areas.
The Green Party said the new reserves were a "wonderful step forward" but the government needed to go much further.
"It is disappointing that the Forum's recommendation for five additional Type 2 marine protected areas with restrictions on fishing have not been finalised," the party's Oceans and Fisheries spokesperson Eugenie Sage said.
She said the Greens would set down the 30 percent protection target the government signed up to last year in law, through its proposed Healthy Oceans Act which would set up an independent commission.