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The history of
Goat Island Marine Reserve

Goat Island, officially known as the Cape Rodney to Okakari Point Marine Reserve, holds the distinction of being New Zealand’s first marine reserve. Created in 1975 and officially opened in 1977, this reserve extends from Cape Rodney to Okakari Point, including the waters up to 800 meters offshore around Te Hāwere-a-Maki/Goat Island.

Māori Heritage

The island and surrounding areas are of profound cultural importance to Ngāti Manuhiri. Known traditionally as Te Hāwere ā Maki, the island’s name honors Maki, who led the conquest of the area in the late seventeenth century. Maki’s son, Manuhiri, is the founding ancestor of Ngāti Manuhiri. The mana and mauri of this sacred name and landmark are immensely significant to the iwi.

Ngāti Manuhiri's historical ties to the area date back to the arrival of the Moekakara waka, captained by Tahuhunuiarangi, at Wakatūwhenua (Goat Island Beach). The island served as a pā (fortified village) for the warrior ancestor Maeaea, grandson of Manuhiri. The land was cultivated and maintained as a kāinga (village) by Ngāti Manuhiri until after early European settlement. The Wakatūwhenua Block, part of which forms the Leigh Recreation Reserve, was specifically reserved from sale to the Crown in 1861 at the request of Ngāti Manuhiri rangatira Te Kiri.

Geological Significance

The area is renowned for its geological diversity, showcasing a striking contrast between the ancient Waipapa greywacke basement rocks and the younger Waitemata conglomerates and sandstones. The Waitemata conglomerates, rich in fossils, tell the story of marine life from 20 million years ago. The cliffs behind Goat Island Bay to Pakiri Beach are part of the Pakiri Formation, known for volcanic debris from an ancient andesite volcano. Geological remnants like the basalt dyke through Goat Island and volcanic features at Ti Point and Pakiri Hill date back to the late Miocene period.

The Name 'Goat Island'

The name 'Goat Island' dates back about 120 years when seafarers introduced goats to islands as a food source for marooned sailors. Goats were ideal for smaller islands without fresh water because they could survive on foliage. This practical solution led to several islands being named 'Goat Island' to reflect their purpose.

Conservation and Recovery

The island's native vegetation was once burned, and it was stocked with goats and pigs. The pigs escaped to the mainland, but the goats remained. The island stayed under Māori ownership until the Crown acquired it in 1971. Since then, it has been allowed to recover and is now part of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park. The island serves as a breeding ground for various bird species, including petrels, little blue penguins, and pied shags.

Scientific Research and Protection

During the 1950s, spearfishers from Auckland depleted much of the marine life. Recognizing its unique characteristics, scientists advocated for its protection. Auckland University purchased coastal land in the early 1960s, and marine biology courses began in 1964. The concept of a marine reserve gradually gained support, leading to the passage of the Marine Reserves Act. Goat Island Marine Reserve was gazetted in 1975 and officially opened in 1977.

Modern Management

The Goat Island Marine Reserve covers a coastline of about 5 km and extends 800 meters out to sea, encompassing 500+ hectares. The reserve, along with Goat Island Scenic Reserve and Leigh Recreation Reserve, is administered by the Department of Conservation. While local community involvement in management has evolved, the reserve continues to be a critical area for marine life protection and scientific study.

A Destination for All

Today, Goat Island Marine Reserve stands as a testament to successful conservation efforts, drawing leisure visitors, researchers, and students alike to explore its rich history and vibrant marine environment. The coastal farmland has transitioned into smaller properties for city dwellers seeking countryside escapes, but the reserve remains a cornerstone of natural beauty and ecological importance.

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