New Zealand’s EEZ is more than 15 times larger than its terrestrial area. It features a complex seafloor topography, with ridges, plateaus, rises, and large numbers of seamounts. Coldwater corals are widely distributed throughout these habitats, and on some features such as seamounts, form dense reef-like thickets. These corals are fragile, and are highly vulnerable to impact from fishing operations, especially bottom trawling.
Protection for the benthic fauna, including corals, has slowly increased over time. Black corals (Order Antipatharia) and red hydrocorals (Errina sp.) have been protected under the 1953 Wildlife Act, and in 2010 this was expanded to include all gorgonians (Order Gorgonacea), stony corals (Order Scleractinia), and hydrocorals (Family Stylasteridae). Area closures have occurred in deepwater since 2001, when the Ministry of Fisheries banned bottom trawling and dredging on 19 seamounts throughout the EEZ. This was only a small proportion of the EEZ (0.3%), but in 2007 a number of “Benthic Protected Areas” (BPAs) were instituted which extended regions where no trawling or dredging could take place to encompass approximately 30% of the EEZ. These do not constitute a formal network of Marine Protected Areas, but include a number of seamounts and ridge habitats where coldwater corals are abundant.
For further information, please visit the Ministry of Fisheries website