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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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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!

Dr Roger Grace 1945-2019

Roger was an absolute champion for our marine environment. He dedicated his life to marine conservation and tirelessly shared his wealth of knowledge with others. Roger was a trustee of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust from 2002 – 2018 and an honoured patron from 2018. Our team loved spending time with Roger and I don’t think we are ever going to forget the correct way to eat an artichoke! We miss you terribly but we will ensure your legacy makes waves for a long time to come.

Poor Knights Competition Trip 2019

Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) – Te Kura Moana

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

The 18th annual EMR Poor Knights competition trip took place on Friday the 17th May. 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 Otago.

Henderson Reeves Lawyers sponsor EMR

Henderson Reeves sponsors the Experiencing Marine Reserves programme for local schools!

Kamo Intermediate were able to participate in the full EMR programme which included a class room introduction, field trip to Goat Island Marine Reserve and action follow up.  Kamo Kamo Intermediate involved 95 students and 28 adults  Manaia View School were able to experience  Reotahi marine reserve involving  28 students and 5 adults.
 A total of 123 students benefited directly from their kind sponsorship along with an additional 32 parents and teachers!

Seaweek Video Comp a hit!

To celebrate Seaweek  we  offered a competition to promotie marine conservation the backyard!

The criteria was:
1. how to get to your local marine reserve, protected area or proposed protected area
2. marine reserve rules - no fishing of any kind and no removal of anything - completely no take
3. cover off some safety information- such as snorkelling with a dive buddy (staying close at all times and being alert to any hazards for example )
4. the kind of marine life that is in the reserve/protected area or proposed site and why the site needs you support!


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