February 14, 2024

Dive report Horuhoru Rock

13 February 2024
10:40am High tide
Vis 5-7m
Wave height 0.5m
Wind 5 knots
Current minimal
45 minutes
Max depth 22m

[ I arrived around 1pm to see two dead juvenile gannets on the rocks. I checked to see they were not alive after the one I saved last week made an amazing recovery. I'd love to know if these are juveniles falling from the colony above or crash landing, the weather has been very mild. ]

Efforts to restore soft-sedimen kūtai / green-lipped mussel beds in the Hauraki Gulf are hampered by a lack of a reference bed. I have been visually documenting soft-sediment beds for 10 years now and was quite interested in kūtai I found growing in mussel shell near Ahaaha Rocks. A beautiful and better reference bed with similar shell dynamics was found off Waiheke by Craig Thorburn. It's small and may be fed by kūtai shell from the rocks above. I theorised there would be similar habitat below the kūtai on this wall at Horuhoru Rock.

I anchored 10-15m away from the rock and swam over to the rock face so I could descend the wall. It was nice to see juvenile kūtai recruiting below the low tide line. Swimming north I found a shelf at around 7m covered in kūtai shell with small live kūtai growing on the shell (not attached to rock). There were fine branching red algae (coralline) nearby which could have acted and settlement substrate. Last week I documented large beds of juvenile mussels growing just above and below the low tide line here. These mussels have been protected by rāhui for the last two years.

Dropping to about 18m I found what I was looking for at the bottom of the wall, live kūtai growing in a kūtai shell drift. The drift changed elevation dramatically as I headed south (both up and down) I recorded a max depth of 22m. Unlike the shallower Waiheke bed there was no Ecklonia in the bed and no association of anemones with the live kūtai. I have not seen predatory eleven-armed starfish at either bed. I did see two starfish eating triton here. In places the drift was more than 30cm deep with large kūtai shell (much thicker than anywhere else).

The kūtai shell bed extended from the rock for several meters but the live mussels did not continue and soon the habitat was better described as dog cockle shell drift. Heading back I found my anchor on the kūtai shell which may be one of the reasons the kūtai bed is not bigger. However I did not observe any kūtai recruitment or settlement structures at this depth.

I explored the edge of the rock further south which had ledges and a pretty cave before heading back and up my anchor chain.

Posted on February 14, 2024 04:31 AM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Dive report Tarahiki Island

13 February 2024
10:40am High tide
Vis 9m
Wave height 0.5m
Wind 5 knots
Current 0 (slack)
53 minutes
Max depth 18.6m

Launched from Kawakawa Bay and boated up the east side of Ponui Island. No workups but I did see a few shearwater on John Dory which was odd. I got a close up look at the rare breed of Donkey that are feral on the island. It was disappointing to see the damage they and other livestock were doing to the foreshore and shorebird breeding habitat.

I anchored on a visible barren (8m) in the Western Bay and decided on an east-west transect. I saw three eagle rays while looking for an anchor spot and one swam up as I descended, I saw Orca on the other side of the island after I left. The kelp was in good shape with just a few patches of barren. Some of the sponges looked damaged and I will send photos to University of Auckland researchers. There were a few sweep but no maomao, many spotty, a few small snapper and one silver drummer around the kelp. I did not see any red moki. I great surprise was a large shark causing past me from behind, I saw it too late to get and identifiable photograph and it was swimming to fast for me to catch up, it was very exciting to see as it was the first time I have seen a shark while scuba diving in the Gulf. I imagine the excellent visibility was one of the reasons I saw it.

Not long after that I was joined by a huge school of jack mackerel (one of the largest I have experienced). They stayed with me for 15 minutes. I also saw a really big school of goatfish after that. There was a lot of variation in the terrain and I documented the sponges, a large stiff hydroid was a highlight and some of the undersides were very complex. Just before the edge of the rocky reef I was briefly joined by several large kingfish. The reef finished next to a large dog cockle bed at around 18m. I explored that for a few minutes then headed back. The visibility had declined a lot by the time I got back to the boat, which was strange as I had not noticed any current, it was still awesome, just grainy.

It was cool to see three reef heron while I was drying off and several spotted shags flying past. Great spot, looking forward to seeing more fish here in future.

Posted on February 14, 2024 03:14 AM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 37 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 27, 2024

Dive report Okahu Bay: MS1

26 January 2024
8:50am High tide

Launched kayak at the boat ramp and anchored south east of the MS1 bed using my previous observations on the iNaturalist app as a guide. There was barely a ripple on the surface and the sky was clear. My plan was to explore the wider shell area to investigate the mud habitat that had built up on top of the shell over the last two years.

At 8:30am I descended to 6m and was pleased to find 1m vis at on the seafloor. The tide was slack - no current. I could see I was on the shell as in places bioturbating invertebrates had bout small bits of shell to the surface. I swam east to easily locate the mussel bed. The bed looked similar to previous dives but the live mussels did look big. I was pleased not to see any eleven-armed starfish predating the mussels, a dramatic change from March last year. It was also great to see lots of large mottled triplefins in the bed. There was broken mussel shell in the bed and some further out including signs of snapper digging in the bed.

Swimming towards the breakwater I found a weird looking shape in the mud and thought it might be a buried horse mussel, as soon as I poked it I realised it was actually a stargazers mouth! I photographed it then tried to get it to move by pushing my fingers under it, the fish didn't swim away and dug it self back into the mud. I left it hunting and (presumably for bridled goby) and explored the breakwater.

There were clumps of juvenile mussels on the seafloor at the base of the breakwater which is about 1m higher than the surrounding sediment and shelly not muddy. I cant tell if these juveniles attached here or fell of the poles but many looked to be blues. There is more spat attachment substrate like the ostrich plume hydroids near the breakwater than in the mussel bed. I'm concerned about the white bleached look on the finger sponges which can be found on the mussel bed, shell platform and pylons.

I headed SE and then circled back to the breakwater side of the kayak before exiting after 66minutes underwater. The current was only just noticeable.

I just cant get my head around how much mud has accumulated on the elevated shell platform in the last two years. The last monitoring report has it at 2cm. My finger tests definitely confirm that, it might be closer to 3cm.

Posted on January 27, 2024 07:32 PM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 18, 2024

Dive report: East Jones Bay

Jan 18, 2024
High tide 1:30pm
Sunny /cloudy
10 knots a bit choppy
9-13 m
Transect West looking for Caulerpa
Vis 7 m

Launched kayak from Jones Bay carpark. Quick paddle across the bay to the dive site. I wanted to check this area for exotic Caulerpa and also wanted to know if there were rhodolith on this side of the bay (I found neither). I anchored about 50 meters off shore just after high tide. I was very pleased with the visibility and after checking out the area under the kayak where there was a little bit of Ecklonia, I swam West for 100-200m into the current then turned as it began to pick up. Returning (bang on) to my anchor I did a little investigation before surfacing.

I really enjoyed documenting the different sponge species but was most excited by the tubeworm matts which were thick and dominated the benthos. There were spotty and common triplefin closer to the Ecklonia where I also saw one adult tāmure /snapper and one leatherjacket. A juvenile trevally also swan with me for a bit. I didn't see any fish further out into the bay.

Posted on January 18, 2024 09:34 PM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 29 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 13, 2023

Dive report: Schooner Bay

Aug 12, 2023
One hour after high tide
Visibility around 8m
Sunny, no wind, waves or current
Freediving 8m max, mostly 3-5m
One hour swim

I walked the bay at low tide then entered the water when the sun came out. I swam straight out from the end of the road (SW) then headed east towards the rocks. I explored the intersection between the rock and sand substrate for 200-300 meters then headed towards the shore and looped back in shallower water.

Exotic Calupera covered most rocks but was in the early stages and was not thick like in Okupu Bay where it has been established longer. I didn't see any bare patches of rocks here where matts of exotic Calupera have been dislodged creating large holes in the biogenic blanket. I also did not see any Unwanted Organisms in either bay (Other than exotic Calupera). There were still many rocks with no exotic Calupera, these were covered in diverse native algae, mostly Coraline turf. Exotic Calupera was expanding into the kina barrens and smothering the shorter native algae, however most rocks were covered in Ecklonia and the tall brown kelps looked unaffected by exotic Calupera (once at full size). Exotic Calupera was under the Ecklonia canopy but limited to rocks, it was not really encroaching onto the sand here.

A few sponges were being smothered by the exotic Calupera but the main habitat being smothered was Coraline turf.

The water was full of salps, mostly broken up but a few chains. Fish seen: Schools of spotty. A few parore, small red moki, banded wrase, violet sweep and triplefins. Just one young sand daggers wrasse, a leather jacket and a small snapper.

Posted on August 13, 2023 06:22 AM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 24 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 12, 2023

Dive report: Million Bay

Jul 11, 2023
High tide 2:00pm
10-15 knots but westerly and very calm
4.6 m
Transect at 120° looking for Caulerpa
Vis 3-4 m

Two NNZD and a pair of VOC on Baddleys Beach as I got in the water. I walked through the water for about 100 meters then snorkelled further out into the bay. I nearly made it to the mouth of the bay (about 1km) before doing a surface swim back with 70 bar.

I was surprised by the great vis and healthy looking cockle bed. The seagrass condition was poor and I didn't see any fish larger than my fingers other than a snake eel whose hole was very shallow (2.1 m). It was sandy to about 3 m which is well out into the bay, which was very shallow. The crimson jellies seemed abundant for this time of year.

Posted on July 12, 2023 01:21 AM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 04, 2023

Dive Report, Zig Zag Reef, Long Bay

4 June 2023
High tide 7:30am
Calm, overcast
10 or so knots the day before but westerly, 4-5 knots during dive also westerly
With @jordi_nz
57 minutes

Arrived at the park (in the dark) when the gates opened at 6am. It took me an hour to get my gear on / ready with lots of trips to the beach. We left the beach with the sun just rising, waves were only 30cm or so. Light breeze. I led on kayak with Garmin InReach for co-ordinates. Jordi followed with BCD and tank on his paddle board!

We anchored 20m east of the reef and it took us 15 minutes to find the balls. Jordi saw them first as we were searching in a spiral from where we thought they were. Visibility was 3-4m with lots of strands of phytoplankton mucus in the water. While looking I saw many snapper and a school of large jack mackerel, neither of which liked having my bright lights pointed at them.

The reef looked similar to January (good given the storms) but much more cinematic in the low light. I saw spotty, sweep, juvenile goatfish and juvenile snapper but the fish were all wary of me. The only one that stayed still for a photo was the crested blenny. The most interesting find for me was the tubular hydroids (I think) which I haven't seen before. I was disappointed with the amount of silt on the sponges but impressed with how clean the ascidians (Synoicum kuranui) we in comparison. The tiny amount of swell was still enough to make manual focus difficult, I had another go at the many crimson jellyfish but they elude me.

Two groups of people wanted to talk to us back on the beach, they asked us what we were catching and we had to explain that its a marine reserve. This is not the first time I have been asked that on this beach, I'm surprised by the lack of awareness.

Posted on June 04, 2023 04:34 AM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 10 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 27, 2023

Dive Report, West Te Haruhi Bay

28 May
Waves 0.3
High Tide 1pm
No current
Wind from the north but this bay was sheltered
Vis 3-4m
90 minutes
Max depth 3m
Two wetsuits, hood, gloves, not cold, moving slow

Shallow dive with @Jordi_NZ to explore the reef west of Te Haruhi Bay in Shakespear Regional Park. We decided on the Western reef because it was closer and the Eastern reef had fishers on and off the rocks. We put all our gear on in the carpark and walked 150m to the waters edge (this was hard work but we could be gone a bit further without a break) entering the water around 12:15 (slack tide).

We swam over large patches of Neptunes necklace and Seagrass the later were sometimes raised up to 25cm above the seafloor. The raised edges of rock slowly grew in height as we swam SSE out of the bay. With the increase in size of these edges came more habitat complexity starting with denser and more diverse coralline algae, other species of brown kelp and one Caulerpa geminata.

I found the odd kina hiding under ledges. Mediterranean Fanworm, Eleven-armed and cushion sea stars were abundant. Several large Actiniid Sea Anemones were a treat to see. Closer to 3m I saw a few Aaptos sponges, for some reason a few of them were covered in gunk and I cleaned them off. We saw many nudibranch, the mostly lemon, some black and the odd gem. Jordi was pleased to find a very large White-speckled Seahare. Common triplefin were abundant and I saw the odd spotty. A large school of parore on the point added a lot of energy to the dive. I was also pleased to see a single green-lipped mussel on the way back.

Jordi retrieved just one breakaway sinker and I saw no fishing rubbish.

Posted on May 27, 2023 08:35 PM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 18, 2023

Dive Report, Goat Island, Dawn

18 May
Waves 0.5
High Tide 6am
Minor current
No wind (yet)
Vis 5-6m
85 minutes
Max depth 6m
Two wetsuits, hood, no gloves, a little cold at end, moving slow
Sunrise 7:14 am

I finally got around to doing a night dive. I decided before dawn was nice and safe incase anything went wrong. Underwater videographer Matt Silcock who has done some night diving came along and took the lead.

All my lights we mounted on my camera which made getting in the water and checking gauges a little tricky. I need an additional small torch. I noticed a little red on the horizon as we entered around 6:30am.

Larger snapper hung back well away from us as we headed out over the sand flats. Juvenile snapper were very approachable. Goatfish (who are not visual predators) were busy feeding and more approachable than during the day. I saw one bigeye in the open and some very fast moving trevally. Hiwihiwi also seemed more approachable. Unfortunately the two crayfish we saw were not in the open, they also had bigeye co-residents. A marble fish made a brief appearance but it was flighty. Large silver drummer also stayed well back like the usually do during the day.

It was easier to see each other than during the day and very cool watching the light slowly come up from underwater. I saw an interesting looking whelk dash for cover. When the sun had risen red moki appeared and the big snapper came closer. Two snapper got in a fight and their mouths locked together for a few seconds.

I watched a pied shag bring its partner sticks for the nest as I ate breakfast. Three sticks were bought in less than 15 minutes, one had foliage.

Posted on May 18, 2023 04:06 AM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 9 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

April 27, 2023

Dive Report, Phoenix Reef, Tāwharanui Regional park

27th April
Waves 0.5
High Tide 12:45pm
No current
No waves at depth
Had been windy but no wind today
Vis 4-5m
60 minutes
Max depth 12m
Two wetsuits, no hood, no gloves, not cold

I wanted to explore the interesting sand habitat I had seen further east in Anchor Bay but without going to the effort of getting my kayak in the water. I entered at high tide and went straight out over the reef as fast as I could but it was very difficult as there was so much going on with large mixed schools of fish following me over the reef. I got past the last rocky reef at just over 10m and must have covered at least 100m of sand. The sand was not that interesting, there was no algae film on the seafloor and it did not get very deep, max 12m. No noticeable mud content in the sand, just broken shell, the feather duster worms were abundant and fun to swim over. I used up nearly all my air on the safety stop and had to do a 15 min surface swim to shore.

Posted on April 27, 2023 08:17 PM by shaun-lee shaun-lee | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment