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A 14-member forum has been set up to find options for areas along Otago's coast that could be protected.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith said no fixed budget for the process had been set but $500,000 had been allocated in the next financial year to support the forum.
On the West Coast, the process took eight years and $850,000. Dr Smith said he expected the Otago process to cost a similar amount.
It was difficult to set a budget with such a collaborative process and without knowing how much scientific information it would require to make its recommendations, he said.
''Previous forums in Kaikoura and the West Coast and the subantarctic, the budgets have varied as the process progressed.''
Funding would continue as long as the forum was making progress towards its goal, he said.
''I won't be surprised if it may vary significantly from it. I'm relaxed. To some extent, it is how long is a piece of string?''Given Otago's status as the only region without marine protection - but home to some of the country's special wildlife - Dr Smith wanted to ensure the process was properly resourced.
The $500,000 would come out of the Department of Conservation's budget and included employing staff, forum members' meeting fees, and science required from outside the department.
The forum had been given two years to come up with the options, which was more ambitious than previous marine-protected area processes, but the aim was still to find an option that had wide ''buy-in'' from the community, he said.
''Debate around marine protection can be very divisive for communities, but I'm confident we can come to a successful outcome.''
Forum leader Maree Baker-Galloway said the forum's first meeting would be held at the end of June and would require members to approve how it was going to operate.
She would propose a two-day meeting every month, at venues around the region. The meetings would be open to the public but could go into private discussions.
The aim was to gather as much information on the marine environment and coastline as possible from a wide variety of sources so the forum could come up with an option or options for a protected area within a year, she said.
Three staff members would be sought. One would cover communications and consultation, another project co-ordination, and the other would help with technical and information technology processes.
A website and social media sites were being set up, to give the public other ways to interact with the forum.