The "Jacques Cousteau" of New Zealand, Wade Doak, has bid his final adieu but his work on environmental protection will be remembered for generations to come.

Family and friends fondly remember the esteemed marine environmentalist, diver and author, who passed away peacefully in his Tutukaka home on Thursday evening.

He was 79.

Wife Jan said even though Doak was sick and was being treated for cancer, things took a "funny turn" on Thursday evening in that he wasn't in pain when an ambulance arrived.

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"It was very quick," she said.

Son Brady said of all things, his father would be best remembered for the legacy he left behind as a stalwart of environment protection.

"He always considered the environment as a bit of an underdog that needed attention and all his writings and books are a testimony to that.

"He had been influential in his life with so many things. It's a shock to his family that he passed away but the legacy he left behind will be an inspiration to others," he said.

Northland tourism leader Jeroen Jongejans recalls meeting Doak in the early 1980s as a fresh immigrant and helping the latter fix his boat.

"In exchange, he taught me how to dive and to explore the whole underwater ecosystem. He had an amazing ability to teach."

The co-owner of Dive! Tutukaka said they decided to build a larger catamaran to explore the Pacific Ocean but the idea was put on hold after the sharemarket crisis in the mid 80s.

Jongejans said Doak's effort saw the waters surrounding the Poor Knights Islands from being a 5 per cent marine protected area to a fully protected marine sanctuary in 1998.

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"He was very passionate and driven about the ocean and generally about the environment. He'll be remembered as the Jacques Cousteau of New Zealand."

Tributes are pouring in for esteemed marine environmentalist Wade Doak who passed peacefully in his Tutukaka home. Photo / John Stone
Tributes are pouring in for esteemed marine environmentalist Wade Doak who passed peacefully in his Tutukaka home. Photo / John Stone

Another well-known Northlander who dived and had a long association with Doak is former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels.

He said Doak knew he was vying for a seat in the Northland Regional Council in the upcoming elections and send him his good wishes.

"He emailed me last week and said never mind the politics, when are we going for a dive?"

Samuels recalled diving with Doak and marine archaeologist Kelly Tarlton on top of Three Kings Islands, north west of Cape Reinga, and the Poor Knights, in the 1970s during the Save the Whales campaign.

"Wade was always the conservationist, Kelly was on the camera, and my role was spear fishing so I was third in the pecking order. I've never seen anyone so dedicated to the preservation of marine life."

Samuels said New Zealand has lost an underwater icon.

In the 1960s, Doak and Tarlton were among those who found and dived the wreck of the SS Elingamite which went down at the Three Kings Islands in November 1902.

In 2014, Doak received the Queen's Service Medal (QSM) for services to marine conservation.

He is survived by Jan, two children and three grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are yet to be confirmed.