A Whale Of A Time On Two Perfect Days

by Cleo Lloyd-Dangen, Reuben Butler and Dwayne Walsh.

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Year 10 students at Taipa Area School recently visited Matai Bay on the Karikari Peninsula, and the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, which is about 20km offshore from Tutukaka, east of Whangarei.  These trips were organised by our teachers, Mr Walsh and Mr Newman, who want us to appreciate how important it is to look after these beautiful and important places.  There are many ways that we can explain how we feel about the experiences we had on these trips - one word that says it all is: AMAZING!


Matai Bay


Matai Bay had many surprises. There were so many kina, which indicates overfishing of species which eat kina, such as snapper.  We also saw schools of beautiful blue maomao. At Matai Bay we did 2 snorkels. One was out in the bay which we reached by boat. The habitat in the area we snorkelled had lots of different types of marine life and there were not too many kina barrens. A kina barren is a place where kina populations become too large, and they destroy the plant life which affects other species. More seaweed was present here to provide a good habitat for the aquatic life.


We also snorkelled inshore, near the boat ramp.  What we saw here was very different because the plant life had largely been destroyed by the large population of kina, and seaweed was not as dense. We think that there is not as much diversity in close to the boat ramp, probably because this is heavily impacted on by people and used much more for fishing.  This means that the large predatory snapper and crayfish are not present to keep the kina population down. We did not see a single snapper at Matai Bay but we did see stingray, goatfish, banded wrasse, parore, red moki, schools of baby squid, and octopus and colourful, vibrant nudibranch.


Poor Knights Marine Reserve


The charter trip on the Perfect Day from Tutukaka to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve was awesome. On the way to the islands we saw a large school of short finned pilot whales, the first that the Perfect Day charter boat had seen this season. They came up close beside the boat. We stopped and the pilot whales stayed around, to give us a very close look at these spectacular animals.


At the Poor Knights we got into snorkelling gear and explored a place called The Garden. Here in the marine reserve there was greater biodiversity (variety of plants and animals), and the size of the fish and the numbers of fish present were much greater than either of the sites we snorkelled at Matai Bay. We saw large numbers of big snapper, leather jackets, kahawai, trevally, and heaps of different type of jellyfish that were not poisonous.  There were also tiny juvenile fish in front of our masks feeding on plankton. The kelp was a lot more common and appeared healthier. Kina were not as common here. The fish were timid but they kept close enough for us to be able to interact with them.


After our snorkel, we went for a boat tour around the islands, and Craig, the skipper, gave us a talk about the history of the islands, their significance to the Ngati Wai people, and the geological features of the islands. We also ventured into Rikoriko Cave which, with an internal area of one hectare, is the largest underwater cave in the world. Looking around the island and seeing Poor Knights lilies, and pohutakawa in bloom, capped off the day. On the way back we saw a Bryde’s whale, another first for the Perfect day crew this season. Bryde’s whales have a habit of zig-zagging in front of the boat and keeping their distance, so we did not get too close to them.


What did we learn about marine reserves?


Marine reserves have a positive effect on sea life by providing a safe place for the fish to breed and to grow. They provide an opportunity for us to look at the marine life interacting naturally in a habitat that hasn’t been disturbed for years. They also provide us with an opportunity for us to make comparisons with marine environments that are impacted on through fishing.


So, from all the year 10 students from Taipa Area School that went on these magnificent trips: a big thanks to Samara Nicholls from the Experiencing Marine Reserves programme for all the help towards the trips to Matai Bay and the Poor Knights, and for lending us the gear for our use. (www.emr.org.nz). Also, to Mike Casey: thanks for your help over the 3 days at Matai and on the trip to the Poor Knights. Thanks also to Dianne Casey for your help towards the Poor Knights trip. Our appreciation also goes to the crew from the Perfect day Charters who provided us with a fantastic boat and a most memorable experience, and even wetsuits. We can’t recommend these guys enough if you are looking for the “perfect day” out on the high seas around Tutukaka.(www.diving.co.nz). Without the support from these people, the trips would not have been possible.   


Inside Rikoriko cave






Short finned Pilot whales



A sea anemone and a nudibranch





A student takes time out for a snapshot.





Fish schooling like this area a common site at the Poor Knights marine reserve.