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Eagle ray wins fish of the year!

Eagle ray - Whai repo - takes out Fish of the Year !

The eagle ray is representing the cartilaginous fish family for Fish of the Year. Yes, that means they have no hard bones in their body and are in the same family as sharks and other rays. Eagle rays can be easily distinguished from other rays in New Zealand by their diamond shape. They flap their wings at the same time, like a bird, while other rays, like stingrays, are round in shape and ripple their wings to move.

Distribution and habitat: Eagle rays are found all around New Zealand as well as the Kermadecs, Norfolk Island, Southern and Western Australia.  Their habitat ranges from sandy flats, seagrass beds, estuaries and bays as well as near rocky reefs. They usually prefer to hang out in shallow water, however they have been found as deep as 422 metres! 

Diet: Eagle rays mainly feed on benthic animals like crabs, clams and worms that are buried in the seabed. They use their unique mouths to crush prey to get at the soft bodies inside hard shells. They also have electro-sensory organs in their head in order to find their prey hidden in the sand, and using a jet of water they clear away the sand to expose their meal. This method of feeding is very noticable whilst snorkelling as it leaves large indentations (like craters) in the sand. 

Max length: 150 cm (fin to fin) 

 Breeding and behaviour: Eagle rays produce live young and can have litters of up to 20. They are usually 20 - 30 cm when born. The claspers on male eagle rays distinguish them from females making them relatively easy to tell apart. Females are generally larger than males.  

Fun facts: Eagle rays were originally thought to be endemic to New Zealand until it was discovered that the Australian eagle ray species was identical. For defence against threats, eagle rays have a venomous spine on their tails (like other ray species). Eagle rays are a favourite snack of orca.  

Fish of the Year 2021

Voting has closed.  Winners will be announced soon!

Vote for your ‘Fish of the Year’ HERE  to be in to win cool prizes and recognition for your favorite ika (fish)!


Check out our fun social media campaign


EMR in the media

Poor Knights Annual Competition Trip

Thirty two rangatahi and their whanau from all around Aotearoa rewarded with Poor Knights snorkel experience! 

The 19th annual EMR Poor Knights competition trip took place on Friday the 11th December. The trip was organised by Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) and made up of representative students from each school that participates in the programme from Northland and Auckland, as well as 2 representatives from the other 6 regions EMR is operating including Taranaki, Coromandel, Gisborne, Wellington, Nelson and Rakiura (Stewart Island). 

Whangateau Snorkel Day - In memory of the late Dr Roger Grace


We got lucky this weekend with the perfect window of weather for our Whangateau Snorkel Day on Sunday, held in memory of the late Dr Roger Grace. Roger was a founding trustee of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust and spent many hours in the estuary doing his PhD research in 1966, pioneering science by SCUBA diving. Last year the Roger Grace Memorial Fund was created to continue to make waves for marine conservation. Please donate today

78 participants joined us on Sunday to explore the mangrove forests and sandstone reefs of Whangateau harbour. Whilst making our way out to the reef, snorkellers spotted hairy crabs, curious mantis shrimps, filtering anemones and weaving snail highways. After crossing the sandy flats of the harbour the reef started to reveal itself, with draping Neptune's necklace and schools of parore and spotties. On our way back to shore we stopped by the mangroves so we could get up close and personal with these important ocean loving trees. We saw barnacles waving their fronds in mesmerising patterns and marvelled at the cave like structures formed by the trunks and roots of the mangroves.


The event provides an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of mangrove forests as fish nurseries and to prevent coastal erosion, while immersing them in the habitat. We also covered the cockle closure and what that marine protection means in relation to water clarity.

Huge thank you to The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation for funding this event, to the Whangateau Holiday Park for providing accomodation for the volunteers and crew and of course to our amazing volunteers for guiding many new participants through the wonders of the Whangateau Harbour.

Let's get 10,000 kiwis under the water

Please help us to raise funds for our upcoming adventure activity safety audit accreditation and get 10,000 kiwis under the water!

The Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) programme started in Taitokerau/Northland in 2001 with the idea of taking local schools to see unprotected marine areas and comparing them to a fully protected marine reserve. Seeing huge Tamure/snapper swimming by in a marine reserve has inspired thousands of kids to take action for the marine environment and exercise kaitiakitanga.

Since 2001, EMR has guided 70928 people through marine reserves and 132478 have been snorkelling with us all over Aotearoa. We offer community guided snorkel day events and school programmes throughout our nine regions.

Now, more than ever, we feel it's important for kiwi kids and their whanau to get out and experience what is under the sea, in their local backyard. We hope to inspire new marine conservation projects and underwater observations, but most importantly we hope that people will fall in love with ‘te moana’, the sea!


National Volunteer Week 2020

2020.06.14 MotuManawa LornaDoogan 08915This past summer EMR has been very lucky to have a large team of volunteers around Aotearoa to help us run our community events and school programmes. In the Auckland region alone we had 110 active volunteers who donated 1847 hours of their time. 

World Oceans Day - support the Rahui

The Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) - Te Kura Moana programme is celebrating World Oceans Day!
The Mountains To Sea Conservation Trust (MTSCT)/ EMR are working closely with Te Whanau Moana Me Te Rorohuri hapu to support the Maitai Bay rāhui that was established in late 2017. The rāhui aims to restore marine life, restore the tapu and mana and implement a sustainability plan for future generations. World Ocean Day has marked the beginning of this seasons monitoring (delayed due to Covid 19 and bad weather) of the rāhui.



All delivery and events are  currently postponed until further noitice as we are in ALERT LEVEL 4

The recent global COVID-19 pandemic has shaken our society’s fabric to its core and we are facing huge social and economic challenges as we navigate this new world. Massive behaviour change has been forced upon us and stripped many simple freedoms that were once taken for granted. New Zealanders have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability through this challenging time. Many New Zealand organisations are reflecting on what this means for them moving forward. The Mountains to Sea Conservation trust (MTSCT) is now in a unique position to use this period of retreat to hone our strategies, keep our existing network around NZ strong and be ready to reconnect New Zealanders with nature and community action that builds environmental resilience. The core business of MTSCT is hands-on community engagement in the environment that leads to action for the environment. Obviously this is a huge challenge in the near future now, but we are determined to stick to what we know works and be ready to continue to offer meaningful engagement and conservation action when New Zealanders emerge from this unsettling, but necessary, period of isolation.

New event location - Maunganui Bay (Deep Water Cove)

EMR is pleased to be celebrating Seaweek with a new event location annoucment. Thanks to Fish Forever, Foundation North, the Department of Conservation and Sea Shuttles Experiencing Marine Reserves is able to run our first community guided snorkel day at Maunganui Bay (Deep Water Cove).

Memorial Snorkel for Roger Grace

This snorkel day marked the 7th free event that Experiencing Marine Reserves has run in the Whangateau Harbour and the first in memory of the late Dr Roger Grace. Roger was a founding trustee of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust and spent many hours in the estuary doing his PhD research in 1966, pioneering science by SCUBA diving. Donations were raised for the Dr Roger Grace Memorial Fund set up to continue to make waves for marine conservation. Please donate today at

On Sunday the 1st of December we broke our previous records, with 110 participants attending the event. Almost of which had never snorkelled in the mangroves before. We saw cockle siphons, anemones and hairy crabs on the sand flats and big schools of yellow eyed mullet in the mangroves. Those groups with confident swimmers were able to venture over the sandstone reef and were treated to parore and spotties hiding the neptunes necklace and schools of juvenile trevally.

Having the support of The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation has meant that we are able to provide these free events which encourage kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of our marine taonga (treasures) in our participants. These events also have the added benefit of getting people active, learning a new skill and meeting other people in their community.

The event provided an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of mangrove forests as fish nurseries and to prevent coastal erosion, while immersing them in the habitat. We also covered the cockle closure and what that marine protection means in relation to water clarity in the Whangateau Estuary.

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Trip report written by Patrick Smallhorn-West


Last weekend I had the opportunity of volunteering with an amazing team of people who were dedicating their time to preserving New Zealand’s marine environment in the name of Dr. Roger Grace. Dr. Grace was one of the cornerstones of marine science and conservation in New Zealand, and also someone who left a very strong mark on me personally. It is wonderful to see that his work is still being carried on by such an engaged and passionate group of people.

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I spent my first summer in New Zealand shortly after my uncle past away. Ian Scott was a marine biologist from Leigh who had been a huge inspiration to me growing up. Thanks in part to him, I moved to Australia when I was 20 to complete my studies on coral reef conservation at James Cook University. Unfortunately, he passed in 2011, right as I was starting my journey in marine conservation. In that first summer after he passed, I came to Leigh to spend time with family. In doing so I was introduced to Roger, who took me under his wing in a way I hadn’t experienced before or since.

Roger had a deep impact on my life as a marine scientist and conservationist. As a 21 year old undergraduate student spending a summer diving and learning about photography and conservation he was a legend. To be introduced to him at the start of that summer, at that time in my life, was a very special event. But what was amazing was that that introduction began a whole summer of collaboration and adventures. Suddenly, here was this legend in his field, who had been on both the Rainbow Warrior and Calypso, spending everyday with myself, who had just finished his first year of university.

That summer we spent close to two months diving all around the Leigh area and up to the Poor Knights. He taught me about key marine conservation issues in the area as well as the importance of marine reserves. I helped him conduct surveys both within and outside of protected areas along the coast, which clearly showed differences in the abundances of different creatures. We also had plenty of time spent eating blueberry ice cream, which because of his condition I was meant to keep a secret! Now I’ve nearly completed my PhD on marine protected areas and so much of this is thanks to Roger’s inspiration.


The biggest gift Roger gave me was time. Time to ask questions, time to slowly build an understanding of the complexity of marine conservation issues. There are few moments in your life, if ever, when someone will patiently give you their undivided attention day after day and ask for nothing in return.

Even at that point he wasn’t well, he’d had two heart attacks under water and wasn’t allowed to get tanks filled anymore. But we still managed to go out on his little row boat and get in the water. At the end of the summer when I printed him off some photos of him diving his parting words were a laugh and “I’ve still got it!”

He is sorely missed.


-- Written by Patrick Smallhorn-West


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