A Tribute to Dr Roger Grace

2009, Roger Grace proudly
holding the Wyland Foundation
– Dive New Zealand magazine
Recognition Award.

1st January 1942-28th June 2019

With a sad heart I put the following down on paper. It is also a sort of happy place for me at the same time, if that makes sense? This is in a way, my personal au revoir to Roger. I hope you understand. It was an enormous privilege to call Roger a friend, a mate.

I said my farewell to Roger on the 26th June with Gilbert Peterson, the publisher and managing editor of this magazine, as we sat by Roger’s bed chatting. Roger’s brain as always was as sharp as a tack, and we had a few laughs. It was a wonderful, peaceful time.

I recall when Roger phoned, as I’m sure he did to a few friends, re his idea of having two Roger’s Way Out Parties. “Dave I can’t see the point of being in a box surrounded by friends recalling their times with me. I would rather be alive and listen to their stories, what do you think?” “Bloody great idea, Roger”. They were Historical Events in my humble opinion!

Roger Grace was a good bugger who loved ice cream! He was one of life’s true gentlemen. A humble guy with immense talent.

A family trip to Goat Island in 1958 triggered his serious interest in diving, photography and marine biology. He joined the Auckland Underwater Club and later, the university Underwater Club. Like many divers of that era he was into spearfishing and entered several spearfishing competitions, achieving a fourth place in the National competition at Whitianga in 1964. He learnt to scuba dive in

At the University of Auckland he gained a Bachelor of Science, a Masters in Zoology and a PhD on the animals and marine sediment at the entrance to Whangateau harbour. With these qualifications and knowledge he kick-started and sustained his amazing career and years of dedication to protect New Zealand’s marine environment. We published his first article for Dive New Zealand magazine in the Dec/Jan 2001 titled, Towards a Network of Reserves. He contributed over 50 plus articles to this magazine.

As the years thundered by my respect grew for Roger’s ethics and undiminishing environmental passion and his commitment to understanding this blue planet’s fragile ecosystem. God knows how many Environmental Impact Reports he wrote…

In the halcyon days of the massive Ocean Conferences in the 80s-90s Roger was a superb presenter. He was also a strong entrant in the battle to win the prestigious Oceans Photography Competition. Roger won Overall Best of Show in 1984, 1988 and 1991.

It was an absolute pleasure in 2009 to award him the Wyland Foundation/Dive New Zealand magazine Recognition Award – one person can make a difference. The small citation on the Award says: Roger Grace Environmentalist, Photographer, Writer, Researcher.

When presenting this award I listed just a few of his projects: Over 30 years of reef fish and crayfish monitoring in protected and non-protected areas.

  • Invited photographer and sometimes scientist on many international Greenpeace expeditions.
  • Study of impacts on benthos communities due to channel deepening and widening projects at Port of Tauranga, and effects of dumping sediment offshore.
  • Monitoring biological impacts of sand extraction in the Kaipara Harbour and Northland east coast.
  • Monitoring the effects of dredge spoil dumping by Ports of Auckland Ltd on rocky reef life in the Hauraki Gulf.
  • New Caledonia: With a team from Conservation International a survey of coral reef and lagoon fishes.
  • Guide to the Kermadec Islands for Jacques Cousteau on the Calypso.
  • Guide for National Geographic underwater photographer David Doubilet on two expeditions to New Zealand.
  • Habitat Mapping of Tawharanui marine park, Mimiwhangata marine park, Doubtless Bay, Motukaroro marine reserve, Whangarei – to name a few.
  • 245 magazine articles with pictures on marine and conservation issues.

He has been recognised for his environmental work with:

  • Forest and Bird’s highest honour, the Old Blue Award, 2016.
  • Queen’s Service Medal for Public Service, 2005.
  • Mobil Environmental Award 1974.

Greenpeace was a big part of his life. His first campaign was aboard Rainbow Warrior II in 1990. This was the start of his 17-year commitment to the organisation. He was their top-side and underwater photographer. His understanding of the world’s environment was invaluable. His photos of marine life enmeshed in kilometres of drift netting in the Tasman Sea brought home to the public the indiscriminate carnage taking place off our coast by international fishing vessels.

As many of you know he made a huge commitment with his long-term crayfish monitoring at Tawharanui. (see pages 37 – 39 in this issue) This monitoring will continue with the support of Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust.


To his last breath, Roger never gave up his battle for the environment. Tony Enderby was good enough to send me his notes while sitting with Roger during his final days. Scott Macindoe, the legend who started Legasea, shared with me his recording/video when chatting with Roger a few days before Roger said farewell.

As he struggled to breathe he replied to Scott McIndoe’s question: “So, Roger, I’m keen to fulfil your wishes and help get your message out there. It’s a critically important message. Could you introduce me to Nick and Tony?”

Roger: “Yes. Hi [Dr] Nick [Shears], Tony [Enderby] and Terry Brailsford. I’m sitting here in my bed at the hospital in Warkworth with a wonderful man, Scott Macindoe. I’m sure you all know quite a bit about him already through his Legasea work. I believe the Legasea team does a wonderful job in pushing for sensible fishing rules and that with their work we may see much better fisheries management. Particularly in the Hauraki Gulf; it’s in a sorry state as you know. I’m only sad I couldn’t be around for seeing a much better result. But I’d like you three guys to make sure that fisheries management is hell of a lot better than it is now. And I hope my work so far can be carried on to create a much better environment including no-take reserves. We need a lot of them secure – secure so that they’re not frittered away.

“The current proposals for a couple of marine reserves around Hauturu [Little Barrier Island] are particularly valuable and I think if we can get those in place that’d be absolutely wonderful. I think it’s a great shame that we didn’t get the one out the back of Great Barrier Island. I think that would’ve by now, if it’d been put in place when it was supposed to, that one would’ve been absolutely wonderful. Just imagine it, snapper hooning around out the back of Arid Island [Rakitu Island]. Such a loss we didn’t get that. But with your help we’ll probably get there.”

l have only met a couple of people in my life that have unquestionably contributed to our enjoyment and understanding of our marine environment. They are the most humble, not seeking any form or recognition for their achievements, no ego BS, both loveable human beings, the late Kelly Tarlton (Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium) and Roger Grace.

Looking back, l wish l had recorded our phone conversations over such things as the Shifting Baseline, kina barrens and the failure of Fisheries Quota Management system. Maybe the CIA or the Russians have them!

Rest in peace, my friend.

Dr Roger Grace Memorial Fund

A memorial fund has been established to be administered by the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust.

For information and to make a donation visit: https://www.emr.org.nz/index.php/rogergrace-fund

More information on the Wyland Foundation here: http://www.waylandfoundation.org

scroll to top