The marine reserve surrounding Goat Island near Leigh, called the Cape Rodney-Ōkakari Point Marine Reserve, was the first no-take marine reserve in the Hauraki Gulf, in New Zealand and probably in the world. It was established in 1975 after a long campaign by scientists at the Leigh marine laboratory.
The idea was first mooted in 1965 by Professor Valentine Chapman who suggested that the scientists needed a place where their scientific equipment was protected and where the fish weren’t eaten.
Chapman wrote to the then Marine Department suggesting that a marine reserve should be established. But they showed no interest in taking action on the basis that there was no legislation on the statute books enabling government to establish a reserve in the sea.
But Chapman wasn’t put off. He simply escalated the issue. He wrote to the Marine Department every month and obtained support from Ngāti Manuhiri, the Marine Sciences Association and the New Zealand Underwater Association. He also held public meetings and addressed school groups. In the end the government passed the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and created the new reserve in 1975.
The marine reserve has been an outstanding success. The abundance of fish has increased substantially and hundreds of thousands of visitors visit each year. It is a place where parents can take their children to see underwater life. It is also a great tourist attraction for visitors to New Zealand.
The reserve has served as inspiration for other marine reserves around the Gulf, throughout the country and overseas. The late Bill Ballantine was a strong advocate for the reserve and he was the driving force behind the Leigh Marine Laboratory for many years.