Salty 20 year celebration for Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR)- Te Kura Moana at the Poor Knights Islands with Dive! Tutukaka
This year’s twentieth anniversary competition trip Thanks to Dive! Tutukaka and the Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation took place on the 14th May and included students from as far north as Waiharara and as far south as Rakiura - Stewart Island. Students are selected based on their action projects undertaken and enthusiasm they show when studying & experiencing the marine environment.
EMR started in Taitokerau/Northland in 2001 with just three schools and the idea of comparing unprotected marine areas to fully protected marine reserves. Water safety messages are embedded throughout our programme. Seeing huge Tamure/snapper swimming has inspired thousands of kids to take action for the marine environment and exercise kaitiakitanga - guardianship for their local beach or harbour.
In addition to the opportunity to represent their school or region for the EMR ACTION prize, we offer the EMR Ocean Art prize. The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation supports this special prize for young kiwis that have experienced the marine environment with EMR and display that passion and experience through art. The Northland and Auckland delivery is thanks to Foundation North and the national expansion of EMR in the regions is supported by the Tindall Foundation.
“Action projects included removal of invasive seaweed, citizen science fish surveys, shellfish monitoring, wetland restoration, a mufti day and ocean disco fundraiser, presentations to parents, upcycling waste to furniture, murals and marine artwork on a double decker bus” says EMR founder Samara Nicholas.
We had 34 students and 29 guardians from 25 schools from 7 regions of Aotearoa including Northland, Auckland, Taranaki, Gisborne, Wellington, Nelson and Rakiura (Stewart Island).
Special guests included EMR crew and students from the first competition trip twenty years ago. This time Cameron Pene experienced the Poor Knights with his daughter Dylan -Rose. Since 2002, we have taken representatives from 351 schools, totalling 500 students on this annual trip!
On board the vessel ‘Perfect Day’ our snorkel site this year was the stunning ‘Garden’s at Maroro Bay, part of the Poor Knights Islands that have been protected by no-take status since 1981. A commotion amongst the boat’s crew alerted Ben and Bryce Wigley from Kaingaroa School who were first on the scene for a glimpse of a sunfish before it headed for deeper water. They were treated to a face to face encounter with the charismatic fish and observed its interactions with a group of king fish.
The cave snorkelling experiences were particularly memorable this year. The conditions allowed safe snorkelling through the dark passages of the caves where vast schools of blue maomao lingered. Thousands of two spot demoiselles were feeding on the surface. Participants were delighted to see scorpion fish, black angel fish, massive snapper and friendly sandagers wrasse.
A pair of participants commented that their home looks out to the Poor Knights, but they had never before visited the islands. 98% of the Northlanders on board this trip had never been to the Poor Knights before and it was a 100% new experience for those from Auckland and the regions.
This is the third year we have offered the Darren Shields freediving representative prize, for a Northland high school student that shows talent for freediving, the inaugural prize was won by Croatia Rudolph and Te Ariki Flavell was the representative for 2020. Maia Harris was the representative for 2021 from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Tonga o Hokianga.
EMR has a sister programme called the Whitebait Connection, together we are Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust - celebrating 20 years!
Quotes from participants
“ I liked the Rikoriko Cake. It’s one of the largest in the world!” Elias Brenninkmeijer - Parua Bay School
“It was amazing. Actually a really special moment and quite precious to be able to experience it. It’s important we don’t take it for granted and enjoy the beauty of nature and the ocean. “ Lineke (parent/guardian)
“The jellyfish were amazing. They looked like they had LED lights in them. The fish followed us around like puppies” Wiki Rochester - Karetu School
“Thank you EMR for including us. An experience of a lifetime” Anna (parent/guardian)
“It was the best ever snorkelling experience I ever had – especially that sunfish and the kingfish. The kingfish were rubbing their backs on the sunfish!” Ben Wigley - Kaingaroa School
“Awesome to be with my boy the experience and witness that encounter with the sunfish, and just watching everyone having good fun together.” Bryce Wigley (parent/guardian)
“This is the main view form our window. We wake up to it every morning- and can finally say we’ve been here. We've been anxious all week to come and we were the first ones waiting at the wharf today. I’ve had such an awesome day with my son, and everyone here. Our Uncles are involved in kaitiaki work and monitoring out on the island and we’re now keen to come out and help with that.” Rob Marsh (parent/guardian)
“I saw a snapper and a big eye and some maomao in the cave. I enjoyed it heaps.” Cedric Marsh - Tikipunga School
“The caves were dark and scary but I had an amazing day. I saw heaps of fish I’ve never seen before.” Tayah Cowles - Karetu School
“It was cool how friendly the snapper were – All the people were very friendly too!” Shane Cowles (parent/guardian)
“We saw big snappers. It was a little murky. Awesome to swim around and see all the fish in the water” Kayla Twaddell - Waiharara School
“It’s a good thing the see the repopulation of the fish in general and all the schools of little fish” Waata Twaddell (parent/guardian)
“It’s been amazing to see how life can flourish if you leave it for a time, so biodiversity can rejuvenate and repopulate. It’s been special for my eyes because Hokianga is my home and I don’t want it to be wrecked. I made an action plan to face the council, because the Hokianga needs to be rejuvenated and protected like this. The fish life and marine life were my highlight- and the cave!” Waikoru Wikaira - Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Tonga o Hokianga
“How good the fish is and the kingfish and how clear it was. We’ve been learning how to look after the sea. I felt really safe and well looked after by everyone.” - Awanuiarangi Bedggood-Kaiawe - Te Rangi Aniwaniwa
“I’m mostly a gatherer, but this was just a great opportunity to watch and see what’s going on. It’s important that we look after our kai moana and limit our catch. It’s been beautiful to see the marine life and the caves. It really shows how taking care of our marine life is paramount to us. It’s beautiful to see.” Whiti Noa (parent/guardian)
“I love the water – my Nan calls me a water rat. At first, it was a bit cold and I didn’t want to get in but once I started to see the fish I didn’t want to get out. It was so cool to find out about the jellyfish and the life here – and to learn from the people on the boat about it all.” Wettie Free Dive representative 2021 - Maia Harris
“Diving down to see all the fish. So many tiny fish. Loved seeing the school of two spotted demoiselle. Dolphins next time please! Way more life compared to Auckland. I’m going to tell all my classmates about it! Loved the arch. There were so many fish on the surface I haven’t seen before. Awesome to see Rikoriko cave. Makes me want to explore more. Recommend 100% that people get a chance to experience this wonder” Jessica Woodhams - Orakei School
“Blown away. So clear and colourful. Never short of things to see. Loved going through the tunnel. Shark fin cave was amazing. Loved the movement of the waves” Milly Bell - St Joseph School
“I loved all of it! Didn’t expect to see so many fish. It was better than my expectations. There were more fish than Goat Island. I would want to go back! - Mia Bhana (Community Snorkel Day participant)
“I was so relaxed in the water, at peace and alleviated my fears. I felt like I was in a different day. I wanted to stay all day. Priya (parent/guardian)
“Lots of different fish. Lots of colours. I want to come back and explore more. I’ll share my experience back home to friends and family” Andrew Poloa - Wesley Primary
“I really enjoyed the caves. I was nervous at first but loved it. I was interested in all the different life. Loved the colourful fish. A huge snapper followed me- it was super curious. It was a once in a lifetime trip, everyone is jealous. Thank you for the opportunity. It was amazing. School - Ava Donnell -Mangere Bridge
“I loved the blue fish, I’d never seen one before. The striped black and orange fish was cool too. The orange fish was cool too. I saw jellyfish and there were salps everywhere!” Emily Kang -Papatoetoe West School
“I loved the tunnels and seeing the arches. So impressed” Pheng Kang (parent/guardian)
“We tried lots of different things from snorkelling to SUP to kayak. It was great experiencing above and below. Marina loved going into the caves and seeing a new environment. I didn’t know it existed before. Rocky reef opportunity. Really awesome.
I like kayaking a lot. Loved going through the arch. The boat was rough! “ Luke Hodge -Te Papapa School
“The colours in the cave and how many fish there were, and just like how they swim.One of my highlights was “swimming out of the cave and seeing all the different schools of fish through the blue lights at the entrance.” Rosie Bilkey - Meadowbank School
“It inspired me to do more beach clean-ups’ because there was no rubbish here- and I want the beaches where I swim to look like that. The whole experience was amazing – the colours stood out the most for me. You don’t see that anywhere else. We all felt incredibly safe in the water. The EMR programme has had a lasting effect for many of my students - there were so many inspired kids in my class, and they all felt empowered to take actions. Polly Stewart (teacher)
“It was a great experience. I really liked it. I really liked how we went in the cave on the boat. When I first looked in the water I was pretty amazed. There were so many fish! I saw lots of little blue maomao, a groper and some big snapper” Eddie Thorp - Moturoa School
“When I heard that Eddie won I felt like Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was like we won the golden ticket… such an awesome treat. The Poor Knights is one of the most special places to go in New Zealand to see all the fish and marine life. So yeah, really privileged, just really pleased that he could have that experience” Emma Thorp (parent/guardian)
“It was really fun. I really liked seeing all the fish and we went into the cave and when I was snorkelling I saw lots of baby sea anemones. My favourite part was getting into the water and going on the floating mat and I fell off and got back onto it. It felt weird to be in the deep water but when I had the snorkel gear on, I was trying to push myself down under the water but I couldn’t- it kept me afloat. I saw heaps of big snapper. I thought I saw a turtle, but it was just a big bunch of seaweed. I also saw a pigfish” Sharlize French - Urenui School
“My best memory was probably seeing all the different types of fish and how they interact with each other. And the different plants and the shades of the water and the light. I saw snapper, the scorpion fish that was pretty cool. It was sort of blended in with the rock. If Samara didn’t point it out I wouldn’t have been able to see it. I liked looking for the micro molluscs, that was really cool” Isabel Claringbold -Brooklyn School
“What a fantastic opportunity we have had to experience the complex and beautiful ecosystem under the surface. The smiles and wonder on the children's faces said it all. Thank you EMR” Anthea Garmey (parent/guardian)
“I saw a kingfish… about 60cm. The cave was really cool… I went under and you could see all the light and there were heaps of fish on the bottom. It was way better than I thought because when we were on the boat the water just looked really black and then when I put my face under I could see way down to the bottom. Petra Cederman - Brooklyn School
“I had a great time. It was really relaxing. I have snorkelled around the world and there’s nothing like the Poor Knights- everything was alive! Beautiful- lots of different seaweeds. So alive and growing well- they must be doing something right! I enjoyed seeing the happy children who all gave it a go” Cindy Chambers (aunty)
“It was amazing. I was in the water for the whole time. I was shocked because it was the deepest place I’d ever snorkelled at. I felt happy, excited. I did feel safe. I saw kina, fish and sponges” Katere Lockwood- Gisborne Central School
“It was very cool because I got to see lots of snapper and the cave diving was probably the best part. Some caves were light, some caves were dark. I liked the small dark caves because they’ve got lots of marine life in them. I got to see green, I got to see pink, I got to see purple, …pretty much the whole rainbow. I felt quite nervous at the start cos I didn’t know what was down there, but then when I looked down, I saw a stunning view with some really cool fish. We were snorkelling in a cave and the tide was coming in and my dad got a cramp and I had to kick him back out of the cave before the tide came in so much that he went underwater. Protect marine life- Woooo!” Hunter Toon - Makauri School
“I’ve done a lot of diving around home on the East coast and it was completely different out here. It was really cool to see all the different types of marine life that we don’t see at home. I really enjoyed it.
Ben Toon (Hunter’s dad)
“The Poor Knights is awesome times a million. THE FISH! The glowing moss in the cave! Whenever I squeeze my micro mollusc pendant, it brings back the memories”
#billsbus Bill Kelly Brooklyn School (Community Snorkel participant)
“It was very special. It was something that blew my mind- just the opportunity to do it and just seeing the kids do it was what I loved more than anything else. That made it very special” Katie Owen (paren/guardian)
“The fish were amazing, and now I’m really good at snorkelling. Thanks EMR! “ Evelyn Williamson - Kapiti Primary
“It's been incredible. Absolutely amazing. A life changer for Evelyn, something she never would’ve done otherwise. Absolutely wonderful. The dive was great! We saw a lot of fish, great volumes of fish. It was like something out of a movie. Mark Williamson (parent/guardian)
It was great. I liked all the schools of fish and just swimming among them. There were so many of them. One of them touched me. Most of the landscape looked a lot like on Stewart Island but then at a closer inspection it looked different. We don’t get many oranges and yellows and the brighter colours.
Halfmoon Bay School - Sayla Ware
The trip was fantastic. I really enjoyed it… swimming somewhere I’d never swum before and seeing a whole raft of fish I’d never seen before. So that was really cool.
James, Sayla’s dad
I loved the caves we went in and all the fish. The fish and seaweed were different to Stewart Island. I liked going in the cave and going through the tunnel - Halfmoon Bay School - Tessa Allen
What an awesome treat to be invited on this trip. It’s like swimming in an aquarium. I was glad I was out on the bow when we were treated to the beautiful waiata inside the cave. The 20th anniversary dinner was great fun and it was amazing to hear about all the different action projects that have been going on- the kids were so brave talking to everyone!
Freya, EMR Coordinator
EMR Taitamariki/rangatahi mentorship programme
“My waka is a fast plane taking me on a journey to a world, far beyond what the eyes can see. I look down at the sea floor and it is calling me to experience the benefits of marine reserves, just like the Poor Knights. It inspires me to help protect it so that one day the next generation can experience it like I have. That may just be the way of paving the way for the next generation” - Croatia Rudolph
“This has been a memorable trip for me. It’s been heart-warming the way Samara is. And really special that she remembers Renata as one of the 1st EMR students and mentioned her.” Tineka Waetford
Partners - Tu Aho tu roa
“I kitea te mahu o ngā ika! Kāoire ano kia kite i tē tahi scorpion fish! He pō hēhē nōku he kōhatu kē.
I ki tea he tāmure tiiiiiiino nui! He ataahua rawa tēnei moana nā reira me waiho tonu hei wāhi rāhui” - Toihau
“Haramai tetahi āhua! Horekau ngā tāmure i mataku ki te mihi mai. Emuramura mai ana ngā kara, ngā momo koiora moana, e mato ana te tupu o ngā momo rimurimu. E hari ana te ngākau kua tae ā tinana atu ki tēnei kāinga ataahua o Tawhitirahi, kia kitea he taiao moana tōnui, toitū anō hoki.” Te Atawhai
2021 student partcipants
Karetu School - Wiki Rochester
Hikurangi School - Reuben McCulloch
Kaingaroa School - Ben Wigley
Tikipunga School - Cedric Marsh
Karetu School - Tayah Cowles
Parua Bay School - Elias Brenninkmeijer
Waiharara School - Kayla Twaddell
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Tonga o Hokianga - Waikoru Wikaira
Te Kura o Mātihetihe - Poutama Tahana
Whangarei Girls High - Wageesha Kuruppu
Whangarei Girls High - Caitlin Thompson
Te Rangi Aniwaniwa - Awanuiarangi Bedggood-Kaiawe
Wettie Free Dive representative - Maia (Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Tonga o Hokianga)
Wesley Primary - Andrew Poloa
Papatoetoe West School - Emily Kang
Mangere Bridge School - Ava Donnell
Orakei School - Jessica Woodhams
Meadowbank School - Rosie Bilkey
St Joseph School - Milly Bell
Te Papapa School - Luke Hodge
Mia Bhana (Community Snorkel Day participant)
Moturoa School - Eddie Thorp
Urenui School - Sharlize French
Brooklyn School- Petra Cederman
Brooklyn School - Isabel Grace Claringbold
Gisborne Central School - Katere Judith Lockwood
Makauri School - Hunter Toon
Brooklyn School (Community Snorkel participant) - Bill Kelly
Kapiti Primary School - Evelyn Williamson
Halfmoon Bay School - Sayla Ware
Halfmoon Bay School - Tessa Allen
EMR Taitamariki/rangatahi mentorship programme
Tu Aho tu roa - Toihau and Te Atawhai
Cameron and Dylan-Rose Pene