Marine Week March '17

From Christina Samela's blog... I’d forgotten how much I love being underwater. The feeling hit me earlier this week while searching for kina (sea urchins) on a rocky reef. Beneath the surface is quiet, where sea life roams in a glowing blue realm. Kina like to tuck themselves in shelves between rocks and amongst kelp, so I had to dive down and scrutinize the area until their dark, spiny forms revealed their presence....

This has all been part of marine ecology field labs. We snorkeled to carry out transect and quadrat surveys at Goat Island Marine Reserve and Matheson Bay. Snapper are everywhere, some over forty years old! I think goatfish are the most interesting to observe because they have ‘barbells’ to locate food with on the sandy bottom. There was noticeably more sea life in the marine reserve compared to the unprotected waters.

Later in the week, Wade Doak, a legendary marine explorer, photographer, filmographer and author shared his underwater findings with us. We viewed over an hour of his footage of fish and invertebrates from Poor Nights while he narrated the behavior of each species. It was the best introduction I could have asked for before going to the Poor Knights.

I was entranced and amazed by all the sophisticated ecological connections. Sounds esoteric, but this is what I’m here for. NZ’s coastline is comparable with the USA’s and it’s become accessible to me through EcoQuest. Wade made a statement about remembering that scientists can become so specialized that they sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, and that since everything is connected it’s important to approach the world with an open mind. I’ve been inspired all over again to search for understanding about how all living beings interact on our beautiful blue and green planet.

The Poor Knights have been uninhabited and protected as a no-take reserve for almost a century, which allowed marine life to thrive. It’s one of the top diving locations in the world for the water clarity, species diversity and craggy geological features. We snorkelled at Nursery Cove, Middle Arch and South Bay. It was absolutely spectacular. If you try to imagine the most pristine seascape you’ve ever seen in a Planet Earth nature documentary, you’ll have an idea about what it looked like. When I jumped into the royal blue water, the whole world changed. The first thing I noticed were salps, clear jelly-like free-floaters about the size of my fist, that were suspended in clouds all around me. They populated all the areas we swam in to some extent so I got used to them pretty quickly.  Urchins of green, black and purple ranging from ping pong size to softball rested in crevices and covered rock faces in large patches. Brightly colored fish were everywhere – there was something lively and interesting to observe every time I turned my head. I saw a sleeping moray eel draped over one of the rocks jutting out from the wall, and even a short-tailed ray resting near the bottom in a similar way.

We'd had the opportunity to swim under one of the towering rock arches featured on the islands. Being under arches was a bit different because it blocked the glaring sun yet still illuminated all that was happening almost ten meters below.  The last stop was to Rikoriko cave, the largest natural sea cave in the world at 250m top to bottom. The cavernous walls were stained rainbow and created amazing acoustics. I remember thinking while standing there amongst it all that this would absolutely be one of the most unique and special experience of my lifetime.

Written contribution from Christina Samela (University of Vermont)

Thanks Christina for sharing your blog with us!!