Poor Knight's Islands Marine Reserve
Image: Vincent Zintzen | ©


DOC is taking a closer look under the waves to grow the science and knowledge of our marine ecosystems.

In this section

The Marine Sentinel Sites Programme is improving our knowledge of marine ecosystems through research in some marine reserves.

The programme supports diverse projects, from mapping the seafloor to counting penguin footprints. These projects are led by researchers, citizen scientists those with rights over tribal land (mana whenua) and government, all working together to learn more about the ocean.

How site research helps our oceans

Did you know?

In te reo Māori, a sentinel site is also known as a ‘tūtainga’, a place for watching and monitoring conditions.

It’s based on the Māori word tūtai, which means to keep watch.

Sentinel sites are marine reserves which can provide early warnings of threats to our oceans. The programme is currently active at two sites..

Research at these locations helps us learn how to keep our seas healthy and manage ocean threats. This enables iwi, communities and government to take action to protect our seas.

For example, seabird surveys can tell us how healthy marine areas are. When there are fewer seabirds, it can mean that the land or ocean, or both, are unhealthy.

We’ve selected 8 more possible sentinel sites from New Zealand’s 44 marine reserves. These were chosen for their location, environment, and the support from their communities.

Current research projects

Projects are underway at:

Map of sentinel and proposed sentinel sites | See larger (PDF, 4,990K)

How partnership improves site research

New Zealand’s ocean environment is huge and varied – and many of our species are found nowhere else. There is so much to explore and learn about, and we can do a lot more by working together. Sentinel Sites research let us learn about unique places in our ocean.

Research projects are enhanced by partnering with others. The programme brings together iwi, community groups, science and government to research important marine issues.

This can include:

  • marine scientists,
  • mana whenua with traditional knowledge (mātauranga), and
  • community groups with ties to the ocean.

Shaping research by sharing knowledge

Research aims are developed by community members and locals through hui (meetings). This is to help us find out what knowledge can best support the local community. We also work with iwi to understand their aspirations for their local marine reserves and how these can guide how we manage our oceans.

Working in partnership with iwi and local communities enables everyone to help shape these projects. This way, we can make sure this work can benefit both the ocean and surrounding communities.

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