New Zealand has announced the setting up of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary spanning 620,000 sq km in order to protect one of the world's most pristine underwater ecosystems. The declaration expands the country's existing marine reserve by 35 times.

The sanctuary, an important breeding ground for seabirds, whales, and dolphins as well as several other species, encompasses a series of underwater volcanoes, the longest chain of submerged volcanoes. The reserve, located in the South Pacific Ocean and about 1,000km north-east of New Zealand, will also have the 10-km deep Kermadec trench, the second deepest ocean trench in the world.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister John Key at the United Nations on Monday, 28 September. Key said: "New Zealanders value our coasts and oceans, which are an important part of our culture, economy and environment and we are committed to managing them sustainably.
"This is an area twice the size of our land mass and 50 times the size of our largest national park. It is truly a special place, and we want to keep it that way. The new sanctuary will preserve the home of a huge range of species - millions of sea birds and whales and dolphins, endangered turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life will be better protected."

Following the declaration of the marine sanctuary, fishing and mining activities will be banned. The announcement has shocked the country's seafood export industry. "With no forewarning from government, the industry needs time to consider the full implications," said George Clement, chief of the industry body Seafood New Zealand. Conservationists have hailed the move.

New Zealand's Environment Minister Nick Smith has said that such a large area is quite manageable. New Zealand's 3News, Smith as saying: "Firstly we have our Navy that spend substantive time not just policing our own fishery zone, but also those of our Pacific neighbours. Secondly with satellite technology we are able to keep track."