by Darrell Adshead

From reserve to reserve

by Darrell Adshead

Learning to handle a small boat is always fun, especially for on-lookers. Watching someone without a clue trying to reverse their brand new pride and joy down a boat ramp nearly always raises a smile. And because Christmas is a joyful time, I was more than happy to provide this trainee boat owner spectacle to anyone who needed cheering up. Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone else around for one of my discoveries: having the transducer for the depth sounder on the back of the boat merely tells you that you have BEEN over a rock rather than informing you that one is coming up. Ouch!

I discovered all this while holidaying with Sue around Hahei on the Coromandel. On the first day we sped out past the point from Cooks Beach and entered the Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve (Cathedral Cove) where we saw a pod of three dolphins breaking the surface to breathe. A sight this wonderful deserves recognition so we slowed down as we approached and watched them for a while. They soon left and we continued our journey towards Motueka Island.

As the wind and swell were starting to pick up, we anchored in the lee of the rocks in about eight metres of water. It was so clear that we could see the bottom with ease and were able to pick our site with care. The viz was as good underwater as we had hoped and soon we had found both pipefish and nudibranchs, our usual quarry, including some tiny white and yellow nudibranchs (Cadlina willani) which we had not seen before. The kelp was full and flourishing in places and you really had to part the stuff to get in it. But you have to do that to be a ‘kelpie’.

Being so shallow was very pleasurable as there was sufficient light to take photos and it was a warm 20ºC. Spotties, leatherjackets and sweep were in evidence, though not in the numbers I had expected. However, the amount of sponges and life on the rocks was astounding with colours in all hues around. We dived this site for the next couple of days and each time we found our breath taken away by what we saw.

The marine reserve has been established since 1992 and the positive results can be seen in the number and size of the crayfish. We encountered several of the large breeding stock as well as numerous crays small enough to be worn as earrings, should you so fancy. One cray in particular is worthy of mention because he was so enormous. I pointed him out to Sue, who quickly began changing her lens from macro to wide angle so she could get a shot. He didn’t seem too keen on the idea and took a few steps forward, raising clouds of silt with each footstep. I’ve never seen Sue move so quickly as she fled from this ‘monster’!

A few days later on a visit to Goat Island, it was a different story – everyone we spoke to said that the number of crays available outside the reserve at Cape Rodney had diminished noticeably over the holiday period. Having the boat makes it easier to try new places, like the back of Goat Island where we could avoid the crush of people on the beach. We anchored off the point between the caves and were soon heading down the anchor line to bottom out at 23 metres. We swam along to the point where it meets Alphabet Bay and returned the same way having multilevelled up. For those who have not yet done this dive, the sight of the walls of the island towering up above you is sensational, as too are the size of the finger sponges and the variety of fish life. On our first dive we saw a pair of giant boarfish and were surrounded by a large shoal of fully grown kingies at the point of the island. We were just at the point of turning around and following the rocky ridge back up to a shallower depth when the kingies appeared, fascinated by the sight of the pair of us bubble blowers. As our no-deco time diminished rapidly, we hovered, watching, slowly spinning to keep in pace with the fish as they circled around us. Then they left and we started up the wall to keep the dive computers happy. As we came back we passed several large groups of parore and goatfish lurking among the grey sponges and in the kelp. Near the end, the kelp is much more apparent and we found a large yellow moray and an octopus that were using it as cover, presumably while they were stalking someone else. Many visitors to Goat Island stay in a 200 metre area around the beach, rarely venturing further along (too far to lug the chilly bin?), so we went towards the less explored section for our next dive. Several eagle rays were lying between small canyons and on the rocks that make up this site. There was less kelp and the rocks had a very regular shape about them, almost as though they were fallen pillars lying in a street. After a while, we spotted a single pipefish hiding in an upright position in the weeds. We spent some time watching it, observing the action of its mouth as it snapped at small things in the water. Its eyes swivelled a lot as it also watched us, but it must have guessed we weren’t out to eat it as it stayed in the one spot for several minutes before gliding off and blending with the weed elsewhere.

I am always amazed at the way the creatures of the sea accept our presence and wonder how a busy street full of people would react if a giant fish appeared and walked around looking at things. I doubt there would be the same calm acceptance!

There is no doubt that the establishment of reserves like those at Hahei and Goat Island have allowed many people to be introduced to the glamours of the sea. As divers, we see it in greater detail than most and to know that these places are out there specifically for us to enjoy makes diving in them a real privilege. If you haven’t been to these two yet, then I would recommend them both as they are a glowing testament to the positives in establishing more.

Divers please note: Over the Christmas period at Goat Island, divers were seen breaking open kina to feed the fish. This is illegal as all life in marine reserves is protected. In addition, several snapper were stabbed to death in the channel area and there has been a bit of poaching going on. When will people realise that marine reserves benefit everyone and may be the only way to ensure the continuation of some species in this overfished world?

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