A Northland organisation has launched a proposal for two marine reserves in Bay of Islands, saying the restoration of sea life must start before it is too late.
The group Fish Forever presented its plan in Waitangi last night, after four years of work.
It proposes two sanctuaries: one off Urupukapuka Island, and one off the Rawhiti peninsula, near Cape Brett. It is calling for public submissions on its website.
Forest and Bird marine conservation advocate Katrina Goddard says the Bay of Islands is hugely popular with tourists, anglers and boaties and there is an urgent need to protect a portion of it.
She said snorkellers in the bay commonly see kina barrens - vast areas where the absence of snapper and crayfish has allowed sea urchins to flourish and destroy the kelp forest.
Ms Goddard said easily accessible marine reserves like the ones proposed draw many visitors, and that would be an added benefit for the Bay of Islands.
Marine ecologist Vince Kerr said the Bay of Islands looks wonderful from land but underwater it's a different story.
Thirty years ago, he said, there were rugby field-sized schools of kahawai, kingfish and crays were abundant and kelp forests sheltered all sorts of marine life.
But on a dive trip now he might see a couple of fish, the sea floor is bare and only the kina or sea urchins are plentiful.