Changes to the marine reserve

By Tony and Jenny Enderby

A wall of crayfish feelers point out from a crack in the rock. Dozens of red crayfish or spiny rock lobsters are jammed in with very large animals at the back jostling the smaller ones at the front and forcing some out. I’m not tempted to grab the nearest but just enjoy watching crayfish in numbers rarely seen on the coast.

This isn’t the marine reserve at Goat Island where large numbers of crayfish can also be seen. We are diving in New Zealand’s newest and 34th marine reserve officially opened 28 August 2011.

The area has been protected for a long time as a no-take marine park. When the road to the Tawharanui Regional Park at the eastern end of the Takatu Peninsula was opened, the Auckland Regional Authority, decided to protect the marine life along the northern coastline adjoining the park.

The Tawharanui Marine Park then became New Zealand’s first and only totally-protected marine park.

It gets confusing having marine parks and marine reserves especially as Tawharanui falls within the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. This park, created in 2000, encompasses a huge area but has no protection for it’s marine life outside of existing marine reserves and fisheries regulations.

The Tawharanui Regional Park is bordered by a predator-proof fence and has become a mainland island where many of New Zealand’s endangered birds now flourish. Having a marine reserve alongside the regional park means both marine and terrestrial life are protected. Minister of Conservation, Kate Wilkinson, opened the marine reserve and a plaque commemorating the occasion sits on the beach at the eastern end of Anchor Bay.

The outer boundary of the marine reserve has changed slightly to make it easier for boaties to find the seaward edge. The marine reserve now comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation.

But to the crayfish it’s no different and just across the sandy gutter from the first nest I encounter still more crayfish. The largest are more than five kilograms. Several that don’t fit into the crack wander across the top of the rock under the kelp. Out over the sand another crayfish wanders, using its feelers to fend off any snapper that venture too close. At the end of the gutter an eagle ray lifts off and vanishes over the kelp.

A few snapper hover above the crayfish but none are keen to take on the rapier-like feelers. The crayfish moves off the sand and over the rocks attempting to dislodge smaller animals and find a niche to back into. Above the crack there’s a wealth of jewel and common sea anemones amongst sponges and other invertebrates. The blue dots of a large gem nudibranch almost glow as the sea slug slowly crosses the sand.

We drop over the edge of the reef and find a long-tailed stingray nestled close to the rocks. As we move towards it, the tail lifts off the sand, a warning that we are close enough. Once we move to the side the ray settles back onto the sand.

Schools of silver drummer flash past above. Jack mackerel in schools of thousands appear then vanish back into the green. The reason for their nervousness becomes apparent as a dozen kingfish give us the once over then move away.

As well as the usual reef fishes such as banded wrasse, spotties and goatfish there are several porae and a large John dory. The John dory matches the background of kelp almost perfectly as it moves, waiting for smaller fish to come within range of it’s prehensile mouth.

Yellow and orange golf ball and encrusting sponges give way to long thin finger sponges, gently swaying in the surge. Between the sponges colourful clown nudibranchs and tiger shells graze. All around are dozens of triplefins (at least six species) darting after anything that looks like food. A white hydroid, glows like a bonsai tree, reaching 30cm from the rock wall. In the branches are a couple of resident pink and white Jason nudibranchs.

A patch of orange underneath a ledge looks like a sponge at first glance. An extended tentacle and the watchful eyes mean we’ve come across an octopus. This one isn’t too keen on company and withdraws, pulling a couple of rocks close to the entrance and watches from the safety of its lair. The light suddenly dims as another large long-tailed stingray flies past above us. Five metres away it settles on the bottom, its wings creating a cloud as it covers itself with sand.

We can’t get away from the crayfish and the next ledge has dozens more. For the next 10 minutes we cruise along the low sandstone reefs counting more than 50 crayfish. New Zealand’s 34th marine reserve may have had protection for years but as a marine reserve it is guaranteed that protection forever. The next generation of divers will have another place to just come and enjoy the marine life as all the coast once was.


To get there: Take SH1 north of Auckland and turn off at Warkworth at the third set of traffic lights.

Follow Leigh Road to Takatu Road and follow to the regional park. The road is very narrow, gravelly and windy in places.

Tawharanui Regional Park:  No dogs are permitted and gates close at night. There is a camp ground near the beach. Bookings are essential. For more information contact the Auckland Council on 09 366 2000 or


Boat ramps: Nearest are at Omaha, Sandspit or Leigh

Boundaries: Large triangular markers are displayed at each end of the marine reserve.

You can also check out the boundaries on the

Department of Conservation website here

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