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Our Ocean

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New Zealand is surrounded by the sea and the sea is a taonga. Our oceans support more than 15,000 known species.

Many of our marine species are found nowhere else in the world – and there are an estimated 50,000 more to discover. In New Zealand waters 22 percent of marine mammals, 90 percent of seabirds, and 80 percent of shorebirds are threatened with, or at risk of, extinction.


Sustainable Seas

Life on Earth depends on the ocean

The ocean is part of our lives – we may swim in it, sail on it or eat food from it. Whether we live by the ocean or not, it affects us all because it:

  • controls climate
  • supports life
  • erodes and creates land
  • provides resources.

Many people imagine the sea floor to be flat, but the seabed has the same variety of landscapes that we see on land. Hidden below the ocean are mountains, volcanoes, trenches, canyons, valleys and plains. This variety of landscapes supports many different marine organisms.

More than 75% of New Zealanders live within 10 kilometres of the coast. Image: LEARNZ.

Our big blue backyard

New Zealand is surrounded by the sea. The sea is our taonga. Our connections to it are strong. More than 75% of New Zealanders live within 10 km of the coast. Even if you live inland you are never further than a couple of hours drive from the sea.

The sea is an important part of our Kiwi lifestyle – whether you use it for recreation, harvesting food and other resources, or for spiritual wellbeing.

Our marine environment includes:

  • New Zealand’s Territorial Sea (from the shore out to 12 nautical miles)
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (from 12 nautical miles from the shore to 200 nautical miles from the shore).

These areas are governed by New Zealand laws and are used by a variety of people, industries and organisations.

Our oceans have a diverse range of landscapes that support a high level of biodiversity. Image: Sustainable Seas Challenge.

Our marine diversity

New Zealand's marine environment is rich and complex because:

  • It covers a large area with different temperatures - from subtropical to subantarctic – over 30° of latitude
  • It sits above an active plate boundary
  • It is a long way away from other countries.

This means New Zealand has many different marine habitats and species.

Ready for a quiz? Try the Ocean interactive activity.

Our marine areas are not well studied. Less than 1% of our marine areas have been surveyed. More than 15,000 species have been discovered, and on average 7 new marine species are identified every two weeks.

Scientists think that there may be as many as 65,000 marine species in New Zealand waters. Because we are a long way from other countries many of these species are endemic, which means they are not found anywhere else in the world.

Audio Māori keywords:

How does the ocean affect you and your way of life?