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Moe mai rā to another ocean champion

Moe mai rā pāpā Wade Doak
Moe mai rā

EMR is deeply saddened by the news of Wade's passing yesterday. In 2007 Wade and Jan joined EMR on a trip to the Poor Knights with Dive! Tutukaka and Whananaki School Wade and Jan told 'fish stories' to the tamariki. We would like to share a piece of writing by Wade about this special trip...


I would never have believed it possible. Forty primary school children swimming around at the Poor Knights Islands. For some of those wet tots this was their first day of school godamit! There they were, bobbing like corks around The Garden, across to El Torito Cave and westward to Brady’s Cove. Clad in tiny wet suits, masked, clutching boogie boards, riding kayaks, puffing on snorkels and yelling BIG SNAPPER!! Never a bad moment, a bleat, howl or shriek.
Even when one little guy got blue bottle stings, with big welts on his legs, I heard not even a whimper as he received tender first aid from boat host Bob Brooke. These were pretty amazing kids though: the whole population of Whananaki school with their handsome young Maori headmaster, a dread locked, firm and gentle, disciplinarian.
Enough parent helpers were round to supervise each wet kid and the six boat crew were all excellent uncles and aunties.

It was a sparkling P.K. day in early February. The calm sea as clear as it gets and as warm (22C) and the kids were as good as the weather. We were aboard the luxurious Perfect Day charter vessel. A low-key TVNZ film crew was unobtrusively documenting their performance for the Channel Six free-to-air programme Meet the locals. Dave Abbott was darting about on scuba doing underwater
sequences. “Hardest thing out to film,” he laughed. “Kids – they move so fast, so unpredictable.” Each one of these lucky kids, more than half of them Maori, had been very well prepared for their first P.K. trip. Previously they had all been taken to the Goat Island Marine Reserve and they had all received snorkel training. This was part of Samara Nicholas’ Experiencing Marine Reserves programme and
Samara, whom I have known for ten years, is as spine-chillingly thorough as she is dedicated, determined and daring. I was along to do a commentary and film interview.
So old curmudgeonly Doak was proven totally wrong. You can take a boatload of little kids diving at the Knights but make sure they are sturdy, reliable water kids, possibly being country kids helped, from a small school where they are used to helping each other and facing challenges. And make sure somebody like Samara is involved in the background.

Even aboard ship these were the best of kids: considerate, polite and well behaved. After I’d given a spiel on the PA system, one little guy came up to me and piped: “Thank you.” And there hardly seemed to be a moment when they weren’t in the water. I have never been with a keener bunch of divers. The ship’s broad stern platform and three spacious toilets helped hugely.

To cap things off the ship chugged over to Rikoriko cave. Yells, whistles, fog horn blasts and up on the generous bow a dozen tiny brown and pakeha warriors pounded their feet in unison on the deck, grimaced and made the cave resound with their growling haka. As Perfect Day made a tour of the P.K., the kids marvelled at the shafts of sun strobing down the chimneys in Shaft Cave – a sight quite a few veteran divers may not have witnessed. You need a summer day. And
then, half way across to the Pinnacles, all hell broke loose. The skipper Craig Johnston with his keen Polaroid glasses spied the dark shadow of a big manta feeding just below the surface. The port side of the ship was solid kid and the manta showed a surprising degree of acceptance as Craig manoeuvred in close using his stern steering position. But for the kids the white-hot edge was Dave Abbott, suit less in his haste, zeroing in with his camera to visible range of an ocean monster. Passing the Sugarloaf Craig pointed out a nesting colony of grey ternlets in the rock fissures of the N.W. corner and a screaming flock of these slender birds ahead of our bows. The handsome sub-tropical sea birds did not formerly nest in New Zealand.

While we had been at anchor at The Garden Craig had pointed out a very odd sight: unperturbed by all the kids, over in the shaded entrance to Shark Fin Cave, a red fish kept bobbing up to the surface, turning and reappearing. “It does it every day,” Craig told me. A male red pigfish has adapted to surface feeding on organisms washed into the cave entrance, using it as is a food trap. On the adjacent rock a black-backed gull was focussed on the same patch of water. Twice I saw it hop in and grab food but for a wrasse such a life-style is bizarre.

This interests me as I am collecting notes on the subtle changes taking place in the marine reserve through time. Why did it not go on before? If a fish adapted to this niche sooner or later somebody would have nipped over in a dinghy and grabbed it with a bait net.

With total protection things at the P.K. just keep on getting better and better. “Up at the Cream Garden last winter I counted thirty-five bronze whalers,” Craig remarked. “Then I gave up trying to count.” Dave Abbott told me of watching a sunfish down in the bay being cleaned by a slender-nosed puffer. This summer, there have been mantas galore. “Up to a dozen at a time between the Knights and the coast,” said Craig.

Your first day at the Knights, five years old and you see a manta! There’s gonna be some keen divers coming through in the future, Dave!

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