Six brief dives at the end of seven long years

This is a personal account of how I have been irreversibly compelled into understanding the positive value and effect of a marine reserve. When I arrived in Wellington in 2007 the Taputeranga Marine Reserve on our south coast had not been established. Since this time, both the reserve and myself have shared a journey. I started diving in 2008 and it was in this year that the reserve began. It is only about 10 minutes drive from the centre of Wellington, and covers 850 hectares of our coastline.

We have grown together. In 2008, there was me, discovering the freedom of freediving and the fantasy of the ocean. As I travelled around Wellington and New Zealand marvelling in the serenity of the underwater world, the Taputeranga Marine Reserve was quietly recovering from the effects of human disturbance. Some terms of reference are required at this point. I appreciate that marine reserves present a heated topic for some fisherman. In this case, the reserve had previously provided a place to gather seafood / kai moana for the locals at a very convenient local site. It is not my intention to re-litigate any of the arguments around marine reserves. It is my desire to keep my writing here solely about the sensory aspects of hunting, fishing and diving – not to enter into debate on conservation or ethics. I felt compelled to share my recent visit to the reserve because it was so overwhelming (in a visual and emotive sense).

My favourite dive sites in the reserve are the reefs around Island Bay. When I began diving there were lots of pakete (Spotties) and banded wrasse (small reef fish). There were juvenile butterfish (Mararī), octopus and the odd lonely juvenile blue moki. I thought this was wondrous. This was a magical alien world that I had found right on the very edge of our city. I could not have anticipated the scale of change I would see in this reserve. Just two weeks ago I went to Island Bay for lunch with my family. I had stowed my dive gear in the back of the car and went for a 30 minute dive when a moment presented itself. Given that it took me 10 minutes to get my wetsuit and gear on and then swim out to my spot, and that I also needed to allow time to return to the car, I was able to have 10 exact minutes of actual diving time.

My six dive times were (in seconds) exactly  13, 38, 42, 39, 43, 34 (as recorded by my Aeris F10 dive computer). That is a total of 209 seconds, or 3.5 minutes underwater. Most of that would not have been on the bottom of the sea, it would be in the descent and ascent. I would suspect I may have had about 2 minutes on the bottom. During this extremely brief dive I saw more blue moki, butterfish, paua and crayfish than I had seen in the marine reserve in the sum total of my seven years diving there. It was like diving with magnifying lenses in my dive mask – everything was HUGE! I was shocked at the brazen nature of the fish who showed no fear at all. Fish really must learn to fear the human diver at those other, less hospitable areas of our coastline. However, what I found the most shocking were the immense seams of crayfish that were festooned in the fissures of the reef. I have never seen so many large crayfish in such shallow water, moreover, such brave crayfish! At most I would have been diving to 3 metres. I was able to place my head in amongst the crawling nest of crustacean and have their feelers tap around my face while I took photos of them. They were so brazen it would seem to be impossible to actually frighten them!

To this effect, I cannot recommend a snorkelling trip to the marine reserve more strongly. If you take your kids there, or your novice uninitiated friend, you will get to see fish in good numbers. You will get to see them up close. And if you have experience in diving yourself, you will get to see what our great coastline may once have looked like under the water.

For more information on the reserve see:

A blue moki patrols the edge of the marine reserve
A blue moki patrols the edge of the marine reserve
A nest of crayfish only 2 metres below the surface
A nest of crayfish only 2 metres below the surface

Footnote: Please forgive my photo of a solitary blue moki here. I appreciate it does not capture the essence of the story! I spent most of my brief time ogling the fish and forgot to get organised with the camera to capture them on film!


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