Queen's Birthday honours: Wade Doak

By Mike Dinsdale

After a lifetime promoting marine conservation, Northland environmentalist Wade Doak is most proud of his very first efforts to quench his thirst to go underwater.

Mr Doak was today awarded the Queen's Service Medal for his services to marine conservation in the Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours.

He was one of the first advocates for the protection of the marine environment in the 1960s and is internationally recognised for his underwater photography and film-making and was one of the main drivers behind the Poor Knights becoming a marine reserve.

But it is his first foray under the sea that sticks with him most, when as a 14-year-old, he swiped his dad's coal bucket, put it on his head and plunged into Lyttelton Harbour.

"My two girlfriends on the surface had to pump frantically to get air to me [down a tube] so I could satisfy that push that I had to get underwater, but I survived and that started me going ... ," Mr Doak said.

"Even on that dive I found something, an old chalice, but I threw it back as I didn't think my mother would want to keep it as it wasn't in the best of condition."

But it started a love affair with the underwater world for the now 72-year-old and the next really interesting things he found were treasure from the steamer Elingamite, that he and fellow dive buddy Kelly Tarlton got from the wreck at the Three Kings.

Mr Doak was shocked when contacted by the Advocate to talk about his well-deserved honour - his wife Jan had managed to keep it a secret from him until the newspaper broke the news - but rather than being disappointed, he was delighted.

"Oh that's wonderful. It's been such a great day for me. I've just been speaking to the United States where my 19th book - Gaia Calls, a collection of memoirs - is being released and I've got confirmation that a six-part television series is being produced on New Zealand's underwater world. Now this award, amazing."

Mr Doak said he and wife Jan's love of diving stemmed from when they met, she wanted him to teach her to dive so he married her. And just a few days ago they were diving at the Poor Knights again and he is still in awe of the marine life there.

"We were there as part of a TV programme and it was bursting with life down there since it had been protected. The snapper are colossal and it gives us such a thrill to see the way it has progressed as a direct consequence of becoming a marine reserve," he said.

"The Poor Knights is one of the best diving spots in New Zealand and in the world. It would be wonderful if we could convince people about the benefits of having more marine reserves along our coast."

- Northern Advocate

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