A rare and unique species of dolphin living off the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand could be saved from distinction by a new marine sanctuary being proposed.

The sanctuary, which is planned from Maunganui Bluff in Northland to Cape Egmont in Taranaki, will protect Maui dolphins that are down to 111 in the species.

The project, if it is given the green light by the government, will mean a ban on set netting, trawling and excessive use of speed by boats in the area.

Mark Bellingham from Forest and Bird says if it works we could see numbers rise once again.