Rolling a fresh cigarette, Bill Ballantine gives a sardonic laugh as he recalls the headline when New Zealand's first marine reserve was opened in 1977—"Nothing to do at Goat Island Bay any more." He had fought for 12 years to protect two square miles (five square kilometers) of marine habitat on the coast of Northland, a region of the North Island. That protection was finally in place. To Ballantine it was the start of a new era. To the local newspaper, voicing community opposition, it was the end of one.
At issue was the reserve's no-take status. This stretch of sea was to be totally free from human interference. That meant no line fishing. No spearfishing. No hooking a lobster out of its lair. No prying off a clump of rock oysters. No reason, as far as the newspaper was concerned, for any red-blooded, outdoors-loving Kiwi man, woman, or child to bother coming to Goat Island anymore.
Ballantine, 70, a trim man with thinning hair and a stubby white goatee, takes a pull on his cigarette. He sits at the dining table of his cottage on Goat Island Road, half a mile back from the bay. He has lived here since he emigrated from England in 1964 to take up the post of director at the newly opened University of Auckland Marine Laboratory, which stands on a hillside overlooking Goat Island. A mollusk expert, he has been a familiar sight on Goat Island Bay for 40 years, kneeling on the rocky shore to study his beloved limpets.