Experiencing Marine Reserves' free community guided snorkel day at Maitai Bay last week was a great success. A total of 220 people accepted the invitation, with 31 volunteers helping to run the event in various ways, from helping out in the water as snorkel guides, as kayak safety watchers on the water and shore spotters on the beach to helping with registrations and washing and organising gear on land.
The Department of Conservation was there, its role including providing lunch for the volunteers.
The event, staged in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Far North Surf Rescue, supported by Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa and funded by Foundation North, was in part designed to showcase Maitai Bay and to support the rāhui that was established there in December 2017 and will remain in place until March this year.
Participants were able to explore the regenerating reef, which EMR co-ordinator Elle Gibson, who briefed the snorkellers before they entered the water, said was undergoing a transformation.
"When Maitai Bay was first monitored in 2017 there were extensive kina barrens and relatively few reef fish to see," she said.
"Kina barrens are found in places that are subject to overfishing — when snapper and crayfish numbers are reduced, the sea urchin population explodes and eats all the seaweed. But after only a couple of years of rāhui protection this site is starting to regenerate.
"Although there were some easterly winds, with reduced visibility at times, participants were able to spot snapper and triplefin, spotties, schools of yellow-eyed mullet and piper, and discovered anemones and squid eggs in the shallows."
Event leader Isabel Krauss said the day had been staged at Maitai Bay for several years because it had always been a safe and beautiful snorkel site.
"With the rāhui in place, however, we can see the true impact of full protection, and are able to show this to the general public," she said.
"We are hoping to raise awareness and public support for the rāhui. I am sure that the snorkel experience will increase the understanding of why this rāhui is in place, and hopefully people will come back to see the changes over time."
The participants were impressed too.
Keryn Pivac: "Safety was important, and demonstrated by our instructor. Friendly, helpful and very informative. Thank you so much for an amazing day. Our children learnt a lot, felt safe, and are eager for the next one."
Gary Shortland: "Awesome to have all the gear provided for participants."
Robyn McGuire: "Our highlight was getting the kids confident to try snorkelling for the first time."
For details of upcoming events go to www.emr.org.nz or email Isabel at email@example.com, while images from last week can be found at www.facebook.com/emr.mtsct