Tens of thousands of paua have been left exposed after the Kaikoura seabed was lifted metres out of the water by Monday's earthquake - a potentially devastating blow for the species.
It's estimated the seabed in the Ward to Cape Campbell area has risen around 2 metres after the magnitude-7.5 quake.
Large sections of reef have risen out of the water, leaving paua and various species including crayfish exposed.
Commercial divers and fishermen are working to relocate the paua back into the sea.
Local fisherman Tim McLeod says it's a race against the clock to keep the paua alive.
"Our biggest concern is getting the paua back into the water as quickly as possible. They can only survive for a few days out of the water so the worst thing that can happen is for the sun to come out because they will die in a matter of hours," he says.
"The paua need to be handled extremely carefully and individually placed back into the ocean. It isn't just a matter of putting them all back in, they need to be able to regrip and survive."
The Paua Industry Council is "extremely concerned" about the issue and is working with the Ministry for Primary Industries to rescue the large groups of mollusc.
"If this new reef is the new reality it will be devastating. We will lose a huge amount of our paua in the area," said council chairman Storm Stanley.
"It will never come back as it just simply can't grow like that."
The council will send a helicopter to assess the area during the king tide this afternoon.