• Report

Marine and coastal ecotourism - national and regional picture (part 1): Operator database and map

This report provides baseline information on the size and activity profile of the sector in Aotearoa, and a contact list to help users further develop coastal and marine ecotourism networks. The information can also be used to identify where marine ecotourism overlaps with other blue economy activities. Authors: Milne S, Thorburn E, Trinh T, Dobbin N (November 2021)

View the report

Executive summary
  • Two-thirds of operators in the available database sample are micro enterprises (less than 5 staff).
  • Diving, kayaking and wildlife sectors have a higher portion of small businesses (6–19 staff) than other activity sectors.
  • 5 sectors feature large businesses, with most of these being in the cruise/boat sector.
  • Less than half of operators in the database show some form of sustainable tourism accreditation on their website. Among those who do, half advertise that they are Qualmark (Tourism New Zealand sustainable tourism accreditation scheme) accredited.
  • Scenic cruising is the dominant activity, and is evenly split between the North and South Islands.
  • Wildlife viewing (dolphins, whales, albatross, gannets and New Zealand fur seals) is more dominant in the South Island (two-thirds of all operators).
  • Canterbury and Nelson-Tasman have the most operators in the South Island. Most of Canterbury’s businesses are wildlife operators that are clustered in Akaroa and Kaikōura. The majority of Nelson-Tasman operators focus on kayaking in and around the Abel-Tasman area.
  • Diving is dominant in the North Island, with almost 4 times more operations than in the South Island.
  • Auckland and Northland have the most operators in the country.
  • The majority of Māori waka cultural tours identified are in the North Island.
  • There are more surf operations in the North Island than the South Island; Taranaki features the most operators in New Zealand.
  • The New Zealand marine ecotourism sector is diverse, both in the range of activities offered, and operational contexts. The database shows that operators cluster around areas where there are healthy and diverse marine ecosystems above and below the water and along the coast. 
  • Marine ecotourism in the North Island is clustered around urban centres, with the exceptions of Tutukaka and the Far North. Auckland features particularly strongly in terms of overall operator numbers and Wellington has a sizeable diving industry.
  • While there are notable clusters around key urban centres in the South Island (eg Christchurch and Dunedin), there is considerable regional dispersal in the South Island, notably the Nelson-Tasman region and greater Canterbury region. In Canterbury, both Akaroa and Kaikōura are key hubs for marine ecotourism based on the presence of marine mammals. Peripheral areas such as the West Coast also see some marine ecotourism enterprises.
Accompanying multimedia resources

These visualise the extent and nature of marine ecotourism on offer, by region.

Data dashboard

Interactive map

Baseline report, part 2

Building on these findings, Part 2 (published December 2021) explores the challenges faced by the marine ecotourism sector, the importance of marine protection to ecotourism operators, and their role in supporting and advocating for sustainable seas.

Combined, the two reports provide comprehensive national baseline data of the marine and coastal ecotourism sector to inform decision-making, policy development and future planning, monitoring and evaluation

Next step: case studies

The national scale findings presented reports 1 and 2 have informed locally/regionally focused case study selection in the North and South Islands – allowing the identification of where marine ecotourism is linked to wider ecosystem-based management blue economy settings.

  • Marine ecotourism baseline findings (part 1) operator database

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